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    Monica Ali nails the Guardian


    by Sunny on 13th October, 2007 at 8:28 am    

    Monica Ali’s written a great article for the review section of the Guardian today, nailing it for stoking up the controversy over Brick Lane. I did the same last year when it kicked off. She also talks about other issues in the book, including authenticity, gender and censorship. Can’t disagree with a word. Oh, the film’s excellent.

    While we’re on the subject of brown people on screen, here’s an interesting piece on an upcoming Channel 4 drama about (you guessed it) British Muslims. I’m going to the advance preview for that too. Don’t hate on me! I expect Clairwil be along in a bit for the weekend thread. I’m off to play golf.



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    1. Desi Italiana — on 13th October, 2007 at 9:14 am  

      From her article:

      “As seems to be the way with these things, press coverage began (in this newspaper) with the reporting of the views of a couple of self-appointed “community leaders”. I love it when a journalist does this.”

      Bull’s eye.

      “All sorts of people take offence at all sorts of things. When Irvine Welsh’s junkie novel, Trainspotting, was published, some people in Edinburgh objected to the way it portrayed their city. No one took much notice. The feelings of an offended ethnic minority, though (or rather a tiny minority within a minority) rank more highly.”

      Well, that’s because we have a market of “ethnic writers” whereby anybody who is not white is dubbed “ethnic”, and thus, they are inadvertantly seen as someone representing something much larger than themselves, ie the “community,” co-religionists, co whatever.

      The Guardian published this article which is critical of it, so that’s good.

      “here’s an interesting piece on an upcoming Channel 4 drama about (you guessed it) British Muslims”

      Jesus, Muslims are really picked on out there in the UK. If there was widespread scrutiny, objectication, dissection, and discussion of Hindus on a comparable scale, I’d be really upset. It’s one thing to discuss, analysze, and critique; it’s another thing to constantly beat the same horse over and over again and give it over-exposure.

      Good night, Picklers.

    2. Desi Italiana — on 13th October, 2007 at 9:29 am  

      Whoops, inarticulate:

      “Well, that’s because we have a market of “ethnic writers””

      I meant to say the writers are MARKETED as ethnic writers, and they are thus seen as representing something larger than themselves.

      The media likes to see writers getting persecuted by their own “community.” The persecuted writers then are applauded for bravely calling out the “evils” of that said community (and these “evils” are often the fantasies and/imagined things of the establishment), which often leads to the writer becoming something of a hero and/or poster boy/girl of that community by the establishment. Burden of representation.

      Not that these evils don’t exist, obviously. It’s just that when evils occur in non ethnic communities, as Ali points out, it doesn’t get dubbed, thrashed, and portrayed the same way that it does for “ethnic communities.’

      Ok, Good Night for reals.

    3. Boyo — on 13th October, 2007 at 10:23 am  

      Earlier Ms Ali says “It appears some people object to me writing about a Bangladeshi housewife who hardly speaks any English when I myself am fluent in the language.”

      “Some people” actually shares the front page of the Review - I am speaking of course of St Germaine (and her ilk) whom Monica refers to as literary “Gradgrinds”, which I think is a rather generous description.

      I stopped reading the Guardian every day a few years ago because it was bad for my health (blood pressure) and now limit it to weekends and Mondays (being a media monkey). What I couldn’t bear was its nauseating illiberalism and out-moded oppositionalism. There’s a nastiness too - I’m thinking Greer and Milne in particular - and as for Bunting, well the odd article by Max Hastings does not for balance make.

      This morning I read the story about the Eagleton/ Amis row. When I first read the CIF article by Eagleton attacking Amis for his comments about Muslims I couldn’t help but agree - they were outrageous! It was only today when I read the full Amis quote in context today I realised how wicked and opportunistic Eagleton’s criticism had been. Oh of course there was plenty to take exception to about what Amis said, but to cherry-pick as he did was shocking and the stuff of 6th form debate (or Stalinist show trial).

      I know CIF is a different beast from the printed paper, but as a national newspaper platform it still has a responsibility to the reader - facts are, after all, sacred! - and I wonder if the distortion was a result of incompetence or deliberation. A bit of both is my guess. The Guardian is becoming as reliable, and as obsessive, as the Daily Express. How sad.

    4. Serious Golmal » The Outrage economy — on 13th October, 2007 at 12:25 pm  

      […] Also being discussed at Pickled Politics. […]

    5. Jai — on 13th October, 2007 at 12:31 pm  

      Desi Italiana,

      Jesus, Muslims are really picked on out there in the UK. If there was widespread scrutiny, objectication, dissection, and discussion of Hindus on a comparable scale, I’d be really upset.

      Several of us on PP have mentioned this a few times in the past, but to reiterate it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a huge amount of conflation between “(South) Asian” and “Muslim” amongst large sections of the majority non-desi population in the UK. Whenever there is any publicity or “targetting” of Muslims here, which for various reasons normally means South Asian Muslims, the other 50% of us who are Sikhs and Hindus also get put under the microscope by those who are unwilling and/or unable to differentiate between us.

      This manifests in multiple ways, whether it’s dirty looks and barely-veiled hostility in how they speak to you when you’re in some public area, or, for example, as I mentioned a few months ago, when you find yourself cornered in the workplace by several of your white colleagues while one of them lectures you on the “evils” of the niqab, become momentarily confused when you tell them that you’re not a Muslim and, although you believe in the right of individuals to wear a niqab if they wish to do so, such matters are actually nothing to do with you, your family or people from the same background as you, and your accusers then become “offended that you’re offended” and try to cover up their own embarrassment at their faux-pax and ignorance by attempting to turn things back at you and aggressively ask you why you “wish to dissociate yourself from the Muslims”.

      So yes, I agree that Muslims really are regarded as the modern-day villains from the perspective of many in the UK, but in some ways this prejudice has spilled out to affect all South Asians regardless of their religious background. I think that many racists just enjoy hating South Asians, and the current turmoil involving Muslims just gives them an excuse to sanctimoniously rationalise and justify their bigotry towards all of us.

      However, having read the article about the impending film “Britz” which Sunny linked to, there are efforts to provide a more balanced view too and generally make sense of everything in a more humane fashion. The present focus on Muslims is just a sign of the times, but it’s obviously exploited by less well-meaning people. Due to the aforementioned conflation, the rest of us are very frequently caught in the crossfire, but I can imagine that it’s even worse for British Asians who really are Muslims, and how terrible it must feel for them to be the targets of unremitting analysis, discussion and criticism.

    6. Jai — on 13th October, 2007 at 12:39 pm  

      Desi Italiana,

      Several of us on PP have mentioned this a few times in the past, but to reiterate it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a huge amount of conflation between “(South) Asian” and “Muslim” amongst large sections of the majority non-desi population in the UK.

      Just to clarify, there are huge numbers of the British population who really do think that the vast majority of British Asians are Muslims. In reality this is not actually the case, but you can imagine the problems encountered — by “the parents’ generation” as well as the rest of us — when the automatic assumption is that you are “Muslim by default” just because you are desi, and the other party acts on these (frequently negative) assumptions without even bothering to clarify matters. Not to mention their confusion when your own behaviour and ideas don’t fit whatever distorted stereotype is inside their heads.

    7. Boyo — on 13th October, 2007 at 1:13 pm  

      “it’s another thing to constantly beat the same horse over and over again and give it over-exposure.”

      Without a doubt Muslims are “the targets of unremitting analysis, discussion and criticism”. Interestingly this was not really the case with Irish people during the Troubles (or what I can remember of them - I was a kid during the worst UK bombings of ther 1970s, though near enough too - I narrowly missed the Hyde Park bombing).

      I wonder why. And that’s not a rhetorical question, I really do: TBH it’s not so much about the attention that Muslims receive. DOH… maybe its because of the terrorism/ attempted terrorism - it’s just stupid to decouple this effect from the cause - but that the Irish didn’t, despite their widespread sympathy for Republicanism come in for the same attention.

      Is it just racism, or is there another reason? But hold on, people were racist against the Irish anyway (no blacks or Irish) so what then?

    8. Cisoux — on 13th October, 2007 at 1:26 pm  

      Kosminsky thinks we deserve to be suicide-bombed by Muslim extremists. From his article:

      Are we innocent? I know the impact the anti-terror laws are having on British Muslims, even if I choose to look away. I know how the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and how uncritical support for Israel are seen by Muslims here and overseas but, like so many others, I do nothing; I look away. Can I, under these circumstances, claim to be truly innocent? Can you? Can we really, with honour, complain if we get caught up in the inevitable backlash – here on the streets of our green and sometimes pleasant land?

      Why doesnt Kosminsky ask why most Muslims don’t go down this route, nor do non Muslims who also face ‘confusion’ and ‘prejudice’. Really, when Channel 4 makes any drama about Muslim alienation you just know it’s going to justify extremism and terrorism. White liberal saps — for shame of your idiocy.

    9. Cisoux — on 13th October, 2007 at 2:40 pm  

      if there was widespread scrutiny, objectication, dissection, and discussion of Hindus on a comparable scale, I’d be really upset.

      If Hindus in America or Britain started suicide bombing innocent people in the name of their religion, asserted their religion as a supremacist ideology, and many Hindus became apologists for that suicide bombing and supremacism, using weasel words to blame everyone else except their own religious dysfunction, they would be under the same scrutiny as Muslims are in the UK.

    10. Desi Italiana — on 13th October, 2007 at 9:51 pm  

      Cisoux:

      “If Hindus in America or Britain started suicide bombing innocent people in the name of their religion, asserted their religion as a supremacist ideology, and many Hindus became apologists for that suicide bombing and supremacism,”

      Er… there ARE Hindus in the US who stand for a supremicist Hindutva ideology, have been apologists for Gujarat 2003 in the name of religion, etc. They are also quite vocal about this, and push this agenda under the guise of “multiculturalism” to Americans who know little about what is going on in India.

      So virulent ideologies, violence in the name of religion, etc do not come only from Muslims. Like I said, by all means let’s analyze, discuss, etc. But what I don’t like is this wholesale reduction and constant harping of Muslims. Let’s talk about extremisit ideologies, and include ALL extremist ideololiges in that discussion- meaning Hindutva, etc.

    11. Desi Italiana — on 13th October, 2007 at 10:28 pm  

      Jai,

      “Due to the aforementioned conflation, the rest of us are very frequently caught in the crossfire,”

      Hmmm… that didn’t come to mind, so thanks for pointing that out.

      Also,thank you for taking the time to write posts to inform me of stuff.

      ****
      I’d like to clarify something:

      “If there was widespread scrutiny, objectication, dissection, and discussion of Hindus on a comparable scale, I’d be really upset. It’s one thing to discuss, analysze, and critique; it’s another thing to constantly beat the same horse over and over again and give it over-exposure.”

      I don’t identify myself primarily as Hindu, but putting groups under the microscope under relentlessly harsh light which goes beyond talking about legitimate discourses is what gets on my nerves, and I can imagine that the natural reaction could be that of defensiveness. I’m not even Muslim, but my blood used to boil when on Italian TV I’d see the 50 billionth “documentary” on “Muslims” in Italy. It wasn’t even talking about their experiences, how they got to Italy, etc. Immediately, they were framed as “Muslim” which discounted any other dimensions that they had as individuals and people. The singular question asked was “Do you support suicide bombings?” Nothing else. And I had many North African and Arab friends, some of whom identified themselves as Muslim and others who didn’t. Certainly, they had very rich stories which didn’t revolve around suicide bombings and what they thought of Osman Bin Laden. Yet the media simply painted them as people whose main concern should have been OBL and suicide bombings.

      I remember reading a Newsweek article on “American Muslims.” In the article, they interviewed a Bangladeshi who said that before 9/11, he didn’t even think of himself primarily as Muslim. The journo said that others felt the same way- that it was after 9/11 and the constant villification that in a way made them embrace the label “Muslim” more than before. And yet the entire article went on to labeling these Americans as “Muslim Americans” rather than simply Americans who had many layers to who they are- something which is not confined to Americans who identify themselves as Muslims.

      “Er… there ARE Hindus in the US who stand for a supremicist Hindutva ideology, have been apologists for Gujarat 2003 in the name of religion, etc.”

      Whoops, meant to say Gujarat 2002.

      Also, many Gujarati Hindus in America were happy that Modi was coming to town in 2005, and they were very pissed when the State Department revoked his visa under the criteria that any politician who was complicit in religious cleansing could not come to the US. These pro Modi folks launched a campaign to dub all the American Desis who applauded this move as having links with the Indian Communist Party (?) and “anti nationalists”. The USINPAC (and Indian American PAC) called his visa denial “unfortunate.”

      There have been too many incidences where the Gujarat 2002 thingy has become a celebre cause for some Hindus here in the US, and even the way they describe what happened is clearly politicized and some have gone to say that it was a natural reaction to “Muslim suppression.” So basically, it’s ok to kill Muslims in India.

      Muslims certainly do not have a monopoly on supported religiously justified violence.

    12. KB Player — on 13th October, 2007 at 10:41 pm  

      Monica Ali’s article is excellent. But it’s depressing that she has to make what are elementary points about a novel. That, for instance, she does not need to have had exactly the same experiences as her characters before writing about them. Charles Dickens was not brought up on gruel in a workhouse but could write about Oliver Twist. That if any character says something offensive, that is not necessarily her point of view. For finding offence in novels and other works of art we seem to be getting as bad as Victorians with their extreme sensitivity to “coarseness”.

      And, more generally, that if someone calls himself a community leader treat him (it’s normally him) with the same suspicion as someone offering to sell you a really reliable used car.

    13. Sid — on 13th October, 2007 at 11:58 pm  

      It’s curious that a post on Monica Ali’s superb article which is critical of the Guardian’s liberal preponderance to sensationalise “angry Muslim stories” out of proportion, has resulted in a thread full of angry responses to angry Muslim stories. The Guardian is obviously pushing all the right buttons.

    14. Sid — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:00 am  

      oh and Desi Italiana, nice to see you back. Always like reading your comments.

    15. Ravi Naik — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:07 am  

      “white colleagues while one of them lectures you on the “evils” of the niqab, become momentarily confused when you tell them that you’re not a Muslim and, although you believe in the right of individuals to wear a niqab if they wish to do so, such matters are actually nothing to do with you, your family or people from the same background as you”

      I would be confused as well - you see, regardless of these niqab-wearing women being of Muslim faith, the fact that they are British, doesn’t it imply that they share the same background as you? But I do agree that your opinion counts as much as the white guys as both perspectives are made outside the muslim culture. I do find it incredibly naive to believe that niqab is a choice for 2nd and 3d generation British women, but maybe I just don’t get freedom of expression.

    16. Sid — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:32 am  

      Nice, here we have an opportunity to discuss the effect of assymetrical press coverage to sensationalise and create spurious stories which allow Prince Charles to endorse reactionaries and boycot films and books and all we can discuss is why some women wear fucking burkhas.

    17. douglas clark — on 14th October, 2007 at 1:10 am  

      Desi Italiana @ 1 & 15,

      Spot on. The assumption that someones’ sole identity is based on what their religion happens to be, strikes me as lazy analysis. An analysis that I suspect Sunny places at the doorstep of one dimensional ‘community leaders’. Which is where it belongs, I think.

    18. douglas clark — on 14th October, 2007 at 1:21 am  

      Sid,

      The first, and hopefully only time, I saw a woman dressed in the full Bhuna, I thought, ‘fuck me, Darth Vader’. Reflecting on that thought, somewhat later, I wondered if Star Wars had realised the potential for playing identity politics. To take the point forward, any man that lets his wife dress like a movie villain or actually encourages her to do so, is a perversion of what men ought to be about.

      Men, Muslim men especially, should I’d hazard, be telling their women to stop being so fucking stupid. Whilst, in my heart of hearts, I think the opposite is true.

    19. douglas clark — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:14 pm  

      Sid,

      Hah! I tell it how I see it. I don’t, in fact see myself as particularily paternalistically dominant, but I have to say there is a question that needs answering about male, Muslim, attitudes to women. Care to take this forward?

      To repeat myself, it is ludicrous that Muslim men expect their women to dress like Darth Vader. Do you disagree?

      And you damn well know what a simile is, don’t you?

    20. Jai — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:22 pm  

      Ravi dude,

      I would be confused as well - you see, regardless of these niqab-wearing women being of Muslim faith, the fact that they are British, doesn’t it imply that they share the same background as you?

      Not exactly. In the “British” sense, yes. In the “Asian” sense, also yes. In the “Muslim” sense, obviously not, and this was the point I was referring to. My following paragraph explains this further.

      But I do agree that your opinion counts as much as the white guys as both perspectives are made outside the muslim culture.

      Yes, but my point was that there are lots of people around these parts who don’t regard us as “outside the Muslim culture” — as far as they’re concerned, all Asians are Muslim by default unless explicitly stated otherwise, and we are therefore legitimate targets for their disapproval and prejudice; furthermore, since a greater proportion of Muslims in the UK are from an Asian background, and given the aforementioned turmoil presently occuring in that group, the rest of us are STILL apparently culpable for their actual-and-perceived problems, as a result of our common ethnicity, in the nefarious spirit of “collective guilt/collective responsibility” and the fact that non-Muslim Asians are regarded as being much “closer” culturally and (obviously) ethnically to Muslim Asians then the white majority.

      So all this is viewed as a problem within “the Asian community”, rather than a problem within a specific subsect of that group which overlaps with co-religionists from other ethnic backgrounds. The finger-pointing isn’t to do with us all being British — it’s to do with us being Asian.

      Anyway, my previous comments were just to clarify matters for Desi Italiana, as she lives in the US and the composition and internal dynamics of the American desi population is in some ways very different to their Asian cousins over here. I was just saying that she would still be a target of prejudice and ignorance in some quarters in the UK regardless of being a Hindu, because of all the conflation that goes on between “Asians” and “Muslims”.

    21. Jai — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:29 pm  

      Men, Muslim men especially, should I’d hazard, be telling their women to stop being so fucking stupid. Whilst, in my heart of hearts, I think the opposite is true.

      To repeat myself, it is ludicrous that Muslim men expect their women to dress like Darth Vader.

      SOME Muslim men, Douglas. The devil is in the details, as they say.

      Be careful of falling into the trap of making huge generalisations, even if in your case it’s accidentally. You know that there are plenty of racists around for whom such comments would provide further ammunition and vindication for their bigotry.

    22. Jai — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:42 pm  

      Sid,

      Nice, here we have an opportunity to discuss the effect of assymetrical press coverage to sensationalise and create spurious stories which allow Prince Charles to endorse reactionaries and boycot films and books and all we can discuss is why some women wear fucking burkhas.

      You’re right, but indirectly some of the comments here prove my point (and more, er, pointedly) Monica Ali’s observations in her article. Namely, the tendency in some quarters to feed negative stereotypes.

      Monica’s comments about the lack of “outrage” against her book compared with what some of the media were claiming (and Douglas’s generalisations about male Muslim attitudes towards female attire) reminded me of that old sketch from Goodness Gracious Me, where Kulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia are in the roles of Asian Muslim parents, and they’re being accosted outside their house by an English reporter haranguing them about “keeping their daughter locked in the cellar” (queue Nina’s confused response: “We don’t even have a cellar….”), allegedly beating her up if she tries to do anything “Western” such as going out with her friends etc, and generally being accused of excessive orthodoxy and conservatism without any evidence to support this apart from their ethnicity and religious affiliation; I can still remember the reporter’s escalating confusion as the bemused parents repeatedly refuted his allegations and obviously weren’t fanatics at all.

    23. douglas clark — on 14th October, 2007 at 12:58 pm  

      Jai,

      You said:

      SOME Muslim men, Douglas. The devil is in the details, as they say.

      Be careful of falling into the trap of making huge generalisations, even if in your case it’s accidentally. You know that there are plenty of racists around for whom such comments would provide further ammunition and vindication for their bigotry.

      Fair comment. Can I put it this way then? My viewpoint comes from a belief that some Muslim women are unfairly dominated by some Muslim men. Note the word ’some’. To the extent of hiding themselves away. I think that that is a legitimate subject of discussion, not something to be hidden behind an excuse that we shouldn’t discuss it.

      Whilst I agree with you absolutely that some comment on Muslim affairs is, cough, unfair, I do not think that my question is that unreasonable.

      What I can’t figure out is why some Muslim women play along in what, it seems to me, is a game. As far as I know, I’m not racist, but we seem to be in the territory of female emancipation rather than bigotry.

      Correct me if I am wrong.

    24. soru — on 14th October, 2007 at 1:05 pm  

      ‘I wondered if Star Wars had realised the potential for playing identity politics’

      Think what the Star Wars films would be like if you got rid of the word ‘Sith’, and had all political factions, including the imperialist one, representing themselves be the true authentic jedi.

    25. Sunny — on 14th October, 2007 at 1:56 pm  

      I find it amusing that Muzumdar keeps wasting all that time writing comments on this website, only for them to be deleted again. But then, every troll has time to waste. Anyway, ‘William Ashcroft’ has been deleted.

    26. Rumbold — on 14th October, 2007 at 3:18 pm  

      Sunny:

      Was that really Muzumdar? It did not sound like him.

    27. Ravi Naik — on 14th October, 2007 at 6:23 pm  

      “Nice, here we have an opportunity to discuss the effect of assymetrical press coverage to sensationalise and create spurious stories which allow Prince Charles to endorse reactionaries and boycot films and books and all we can discuss is why some women wear fucking burkhas.”

      There has been a lively discussion so far and some interesting points have been brought up so far… I see little point in getting upset by one little footnote.

      “given the aforementioned turmoil presently occuring in that group, the rest of us are STILL apparently culpable for their actual-and-perceived problems, as a result of our common ethnicity”

      That was apparent after the 7/7 bombing, when travelling while brown became an issue to many people. But I do believe that while English people may associate muslims with asians (and forget about Turkish, north Africans and middle eastern people), they are fully aware that there are muslims, hindus and sikhs among Asians.

      On the question of culpability, I believe you agree with me that the average muslim has as much guilt about the “muslim problem” as you and I, which is as much as guilt as the average white. But then again, anyone who defines himself or herself by religion is bound to get his identity hijacked by an extremist, because these are the ones that are most vocal about their religion in a secular society, where people generally keep their religion (or lack of it) in private.

      “What I can’t figure out is why some Muslim women play along in what, it seems to me, is a game. As far as I know, I’m not racist, but we seem to be in the territory of female emancipation rather than bigotry. Correct me if I am wrong.”

      Why women stay in abusive relations? Well, women abuse is not a muslim problem, it happens in every society, although ultra-conservative societies do not have mechanisms to punish and deter it. Even the niqab is not compulsary in all muslim societies, but rather happens in the most conservative and repressed ones.

      In Iran after the islamic revolution, women were suddenly forced to wear the veil and those who didn’t were called whores and punished. I can understand that first generation immigrants would probably prefer to use a veil, but the 2nd generation and 3rd generation are being born in a liberal society and it is unfair to be denied the liberties of their western counterparts. While multi-culturism has many virtues, it is flawed when it considers that all elements of a culture need to be protected, even when it hinders equality of its citizens, concerning rights and duties. What is next? Special laws for Sikhs so that they are exempt of wearing helmets while driving or in construction work?

    28. Jai — on 14th October, 2007 at 6:46 pm  

      Douglas,

      Whilst I agree with you absolutely that some comment on Muslim affairs is, cough, unfair, I do not think that my question is that unreasonable.

      It’s not unreasonable in the grand scheme of things. However, it is inappropriate when you consider that it’s irrelevant with regards to this thread’s main topic, other than the tangential connection to Muslims. Remember that my anecdote regarding being accosted about niqabs was just that — a random anecdotal example for Desi Italiana’s benefit. It was not supposed to offer an avenue for people here to start taking potshots at this particular aspect of orthodox/conservative Islam (yet again).

      I believe this is one of the main reasons why Sid is obviously insulted at the ensuing discussion, and I sympathise with his response here.

    29. Jai — on 14th October, 2007 at 7:01 pm  

      Ravi,

      But I do believe that while English people may associate muslims with asians (and forget about Turkish, north Africans and middle eastern people), they are fully aware that there are muslims, hindus and sikhs among Asians.

      Yes, but the problem is that many of them think the vast majority of Asians are Muslims and the rest of us are very much in the minority. Which obviously isn’t true.

      But then again, anyone who defines himself or herself by religion is bound to get his identity hijacked by an extremist,

      In a manner of speaking, it’s our ethnic and cultural identity as Asians which has been (inadvertantly) hijacked by the Islamic extremists (since so many of the younger fanatics in the UK happen to be Asian), not our identity as Sikhs, Hindus, or Christians.

      This doesn’t deny the simultaneous impact on moderate Muslims, of course, who are affected by all this first and foremost and get “hit with both barrels” by virtue of their religious affiliation and, more often than not, their ethnicity too.

      What is next? Special laws for Sikhs so that they are exempt of wearing helmets while driving or in construction work?

      Er, I’m not sure about construction work, but unless I’m mistaken, turbaned Sikhs are already exempt from wearing helmets while driving motorcycles etc, and have been for a long time.

    30. Ravi Naik — on 14th October, 2007 at 8:46 pm  

      “It’s not unreasonable in the grand scheme of things. However, it is inappropriate when you consider that it’s irrelevant with regards to this thread’s main topic”

      With all due respect it is relevant. It refers to the book’s story (an asian woman trying to get her independence from her community), the reaction of the community leaders to the book and movie, and the complete disregard of issues such empowering Asian women by liberals and the media. Anyone who is for these issues, is promptly called a racist, as someone who does not understand freedom of expression or the nuances of a different culture, and who uses all opportunities to take potshots on a different culture.

      Here is an extract of the guardian article linked in the main thread:

      At a recent literary festival I was on stage with Tom Stoppard discussing freedom of expression. I was asked if I thought that the “community leaders” were really angry about my book because Nazneen’s journey is one towards independence. I agreed that was a reasonable assumption, but as they had not said as much I could not attribute that attitude to them. An Asian woman in the audience stood up and asked, “Why do you avoid the question?” She was quite cross with me. They don’t like a story which is about female self-empowerment, she said. Why don’t you speak about that?

    31. Desi Italiana — on 14th October, 2007 at 9:26 pm  

      Hello Jai!

      “I was just saying that she would still be a target of prejudice and ignorance in some quarters in the UK regardless of being a Hindu, because of all the conflation that goes on between “Asians” and “Muslims”.”

      But that happens here, too. South Asians have been the target of post 9/11 hate crimes because they were mistaken for Arabs. Asians aren’t all seen as Muslims; but we are conflated with Arabs, who for Anglo Americans, are all Muslims.

      Douglas Clark:

      “What I can’t figure out is why some Muslim women play along in what, it seems to me, is a game.”

      It is because some don’t see it as you do, ie oppression.

      P.S. I responded to you over on the “E-mail response I got” thread. It is a long ass comment :)

      ***

      One thing I must mention here is that for many women who wear a veil, it is a secondary theme for them when it comes to rights, freedom, and so on. Many have expressed their bewilderment as to why the veil has been so thrashed in the “West”, and I admit that I agree with them. For the West,the veil is any easy symbol to fixate on. We tend to associate veils with restriction of freedom and liberty, but I think that it’s inaccurate; it’s like arguing that just because a girl can wear a miniskirt, it translates as more freedom, and this is not true, IMO. Liberties and rights aren’t symbolize by how much you can and cannot wear; it’s much more than that. And this is where we ultimately fall into the trap that we ourselves keep saying is wrong: a woman’s body should not be objectified. Yet we do the same thing too (she’s too covered up, the veil, etc).

      I think it’s much harder to go deeper and make sense of the complex dynamics of women’s rights in vastly differing socieites, like Iran, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Algeria, etc where many feminist discourses are vibrant. Many (in the media, etc) are just too lazy to go beyond the veil and look at these more nuanced understandings.

    32. Desi Italiana — on 14th October, 2007 at 9:33 pm  

      What I descibed below the line in the comment above- associating freedom, women’s rights, etc with the veil-in my mind is shoddy feminism, whereby Westerners (with good intentions) spout this stuff. I’m not arguing for cultural relativism, I’m saying that western feminism is not enough to explain things and give us a deeper understanding.

    33. Ravi Naik — on 14th October, 2007 at 9:59 pm  

      it’s like arguing that just because a girl can wear a miniskirt, it translates as more freedom, and this is not true, IMO. Liberties and rights aren’t symbolize by how much you can and cannot wear;”

      No, it is certainly not about that. It is about the freedom of defining yourself through the clothes you wear. Countries who force women to wear a veil do not give this freedom. And I can understand that women who have worn a veil all their lives, will be relunctant not to use it when they come to Britain.

      We tend to associate veils with restriction of freedom and liberty, but I think that it’s inaccurate;

      But is it a coincidence that nations which require women to wear a veil are the ones that are more opressive towards women? And muslim nations which do not require a veil… women actually choose not to wear them? There seems to be a strong correlation which cannot be dismissed as lazy.

      But my point is about women who live in this country and which are 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants. These are the ones who should be given the same choices as their western counterparts, but rather are forced to follow the traditions of their communities, and in that process alienate themselves from the larger society. This is pretty much the topic of the book, and the reason why it got so much controversy.

      Is it a coincidence that Asian women have the highest rate of suicide in this country?

    34. Desi Italiana — on 14th October, 2007 at 10:17 pm  

      Ravi Naik:

      “Is it a coincidence that Asian women have the highest rate of suicide in this country?”

      In the end, are you associating suicide with what clothes women wear?

      “But is it a coincidence that nations which require women to wear a veil are the ones that are more opressive towards women?”

      Ravi, with all due respect, it’s clear you haven’t studied the rates of violence against women around the world; you are basically going off on stereotypes, and you haven’t bothered to look at a comprehensive picture that includes Western European and North America. And for all this talk, have you looked at women’s movement in non Western countries? Iran is one place- there is some dyanamic stuff going on there. But for them it isn’t centered around the veil. Also, you’ll be surprised to find the West doesn’t fare so well. There was a comprehensive UN report by Kofi Annan that came out a while ago; you can read the summary (I don’t think the full text is available anymore). Sexual harrassment happens more in the West than it does in other countries. Yes. Think about that.

      I am not saying that women are more free in Saudi Arabia than in the UK- and if someone told me I had to move to Saudia Arabia, I’d shoot myself, even if I don’t know what it’s like because I have never been there before. But I think many tend to scrutinize on non Western countries than look in their own backyard.

      “No, it is certainly not about that. It is about the freedom of defining yourself through the clothes you wear. Countries who force women to wear a veil do not give this freedom.”

      As a woman, I must say you don’t have a very deep understanding of what woman’s rights mean, freedom, and liberty and oppression are.

      It’s exactly this type of thinking that irks many women, and why to some of you it seems like “Muslim women” are complicit in their own “oppression.”

      ***

      Can I just say something which is not directed to anyone in particular here? I’m tired of males who vociferously talk about “women’s rights” when they really don’t have a clue to what it means to be a woman, what sorts of rights and liberties we think are needed, etc as defined by us. Like, when do guys stop defining and pushing what they think is what we need? Do you think we need guys to say what we want and defend us? Any guy who says to me “wearing a veil is oppressing you!” I’ll quickly them tune out. It’s like they are infantalizing us.

      Quite defending us and assuming that you know what “oppression” and liberty are. Don’t be a stereotypical male by never shutting up and speaking on our behalf. Women can speak for themselves, as they are doing in many countries, despite all the odds.

      End of rant ;)

    35. Katy Newton — on 14th October, 2007 at 11:04 pm  

      I agree with you that the veil is neither here nor there, and as you say this doesn’t have to be a conversation about Muslims at all. You could just as easily imagine a country in which women were forced to wear hotpants all the time. Or a particular pair of trousers. Or a particular swimming costume. The point is the lack of choice, not the religion or the item of clothing.

      I haven’t read the study on sexual harassment that you refer to, because I can’t find it - if you can give us a link that would be great. But if it is based on reported cases of sexual harassment, then it has to be read in light of the fact that in countries where women are treated less well than men the reported rate of sexual harassment is highly unlikely to reflect the true rate. The fact that more women in Western countries report sexual harassment may be due to the fact that (a) there are specific laws preventing sexual harassment, for example in the workplace, and (b) they feel more able to do so without censure - that is, it may, ironically, indicate that they have more freedom and not less. But I don’t know without seeing the report and the data that it’s based on.

      I agree with you that the fact that a woman chooses to wear the veil doesn’t mean that she is being oppressed or that she is not a feminist. But it depends on what choice she starts out with. In the UK, for example, you can wear whatever you want, so if a woman chooses to wear the veil I wouldn’t assume that she is being forced to do so. I don’t know any women who veil themselves but I do know plenty who choose to cover their hair, and I also know Jewish women who choose to cover their hair. I know that the law doesn’t force these women to dress in a certain way and I’ve no reason to believe that their families are forcing them to either. It’s just the way they choose to dress.

      But I think Ravi is talking about countries in which women don’t have a choice about what to wear, of which Saudi is probably the most extreme example. I think what can be said is that where a state enforces a dress code upon women, as opposed to the women choosing to dress in a particular way because they are comfortable with it, then that is arguably an indicator that their independence is limited in other ways as well.

      That isn’t to say that Western women don’t also face problems of discrimination or sexual harassment. Far from it. And dress isn’t the only or even the main indicator of sexism. But being able to dress the way you want, however you choose to exercise that right, is an important part of feminism.

    36. Ravi Naik — on 15th October, 2007 at 12:14 am  

      “Ravi, with all due respect, it’s clear you haven’t studied the rates of violence against women around the world”

      I should have been more clear. I was talking about women’s rights and equality in relation to men. So what you should be looking for is simple: compare countries who enforce a dress code on women with those that doesn’t, and then compare their rights and see if there is any correlation between the two.

      Sexual harrassment happens more in the West than it does in other countries. Yes. Think about that.

      I also wish to see this report. But at least, in Western countries sexual harrassment is treated seriously and therefore reported. I seriously doubt that this is the case in other countries where women are second-class citizens.

      “Quite defending us and assuming that you know what “oppression” and liberty are. Don’t be a stereotypical male by never shutting up and speaking on our behalf. Women can speak for themselves, as they are doing in many countries, despite all the odds.”

      I believe there is a misunderstanding. I am not speaking on your behalf or on behalf of every woman in the world, but simply telling you what I feel about this subject, and because I care about this issue. The fact that it doesn’t relate to me personally does not mean I should stay quiet when I perceive an injustice, specially in the country where I live.

      I also think that one should be able to talk freely about what he or she feels without their race, ethnicity or sex being thrown in their face as some kind of impediment to have a particular point of view.

    37. Boyo — on 15th October, 2007 at 7:50 am  

      “Iran is one place– there is some dyanamic stuff going on there.”

      And little wonder, or was I the only one who saw the footage of the recent crackdown by religious police on women “improperly dressed”?

      In Iran Desi, they execute 15 year old girls for the “crime” of being raped. I doubt even our dreadful West has stooped that low.

    38. Sid — on 15th October, 2007 at 7:58 am  

      girlfriend in a burkha
      I know, I know
      It’s really serious

    39. Desi Italiana — on 15th October, 2007 at 9:23 am  

      Ravi:

      “So what you should be looking for is simple: compare countries who enforce a dress code on women with those that doesn’t, and then compare their rights and see if there is any correlation between the two.”

      I’m unsure as to whether you are being facetious.

      Let me put it to you this way: I live in a “Western country”- the US- and I lived in another western country- Italy, and we supposedly have freedom in what we wear. In both places, no matter what I was wearing, I have not been able to fend out all kinds of harrassment. Many women I know feel this way.

      Can you please tell me in real, substantiative terms what “rights” would a woman gain if she left her veil off? I don’t want to hear vague notions about “freedom” in what she wears. I’m talking about rights, and I’m curious as to how you define this.

      “I also wish to see this report.”

      I wrote about it here, and I’d like to say that I made a mistake in saying that the West had the highest number of sexual harrassment. It turns out that they experience high rates of harrassment (40-50% of women in the EU reported as such):

      http://italiandesi.wordpress.com/2006/10/17/women-are-liberated-think-again/

      Quick game: before you click on that link, tell me which country is the most violent for women…

      “I believe there is a misunderstanding. I am not speaking on your behalf or on behalf of every woman in the world, but simply telling you what I feel about this subject, and because I care about this issue.”

      No, sweetie, you misunderstood because you didn’t read my comment carefully. I specifically said that my comment below the line was not directed towards anyone in particular at PP.

      “I also think that one should be able to talk freely about what he or she feels without their race, ethnicity or sex being thrown in their face as some kind of impediment to have a particular point of view.”

      Agreed. But when you have dealt with being groped at, recieved indecent proposals, have a penis rubbed on you as you’re standing in the subway- regardless of what you’re wearing- then maybe you’d understand why a foulard is seriously not the primary issue.

      *****

      Boyo:

      “And little wonder, or was I the only one who saw the footage of the recent crackdown by religious police on women “improperly dressed”?

      In Iran Desi, they execute 15 year old girls for the “crime” of being raped. I doubt even our dreadful West has stooped that low.”

      Did you read my comment? It seems like you didn’t.

      I wasn’t talking about a state’s actions, I was talking about the very vibrant things women are doing to demand rights, even those for whom wearing a veil is a secondary issue- or none at all. No one here on PP seems to have any inkling of what’s going on in terms of female movements in various countries, what they are saying, and how it doesn’t converge with what you folks are saying.

      ****

      It seems to me that people have a very one dimensional idea of “Muslim” women or women living elsewhere in countries not of the West. In a way, this strikes me as even a bit racist, because one, there seems to be the assumption that any woman who is Muslim is oppressed and thus has no agency, and two, whenever “oppression” and denial of rights crop up, it is immediately linked to an object (veil) rather than the discourses that women are engaging in. And lastly, the subject of inequality and repression becomes immediately tied to religion. It almost seems to me that Muslim men and women are by default equated with oppression and oppressed respectively. Of course, no one points to the pervasive Eve-teasing in India that women face as a sort of inequality, in a nation that is 85% Hindu. And no one here has rhetorically asked “Why do Hindu men oppress their women, and why do Hindu women take part in it?” Yet it’s ok to say that about Muslims.

      I’m not sure how many of you have actually met and known the women that you see on the streets and assume right away that they have been forced to be bound by the veil or actually had long standing friendships/relationships with women from these backgrounds. I know that in America, many women who previously did NOT wear the veil put it on to make a political statement in the post 9/11 world against the stereotypes and politicization of the veil.

      Also, I’ve met and have many friends who are Muslim. Some wear the veil and others don’t. There are some who wear the veil and are physicians and engineers in Jordan. They are strong and intelligent, and their husbands have always been supportive and right there with them (I know, hard for some of you to imagine that “Muslim” men can be so nice). Others are activists in their own countries who definately make more incisive, profound, and stinging criticisms than the ones I’m reading right now about the denial of rights in their respective countries, and these criticisms don’t focus on the veil.

      I’m NOT arguing that life is better in Iran (or any other country for that matter) for women in the UK or US. And I am certainly not going to say that the UK and the US is a paradise for women, if my experiences, as well as the experiences of others and the cases of abuse I’ve come across are anything to go by. All I’m saying is that…look beyond the veil, so to speak.

    40. Desi Italiana — on 15th October, 2007 at 9:33 am  

      Hey, do you think the symbol of the bra is the comparable analogy to today’s veil? Like women burned their bras in the 70’s for women’s “liberation”. To symbolize freedom from oppression.

      But wait- the majority of women have WILLINGLY continued to wear bras! What’s wrong with them? Have they lost their minds! That bra holds us back! Why are Western women complicit in their own oppression?! They must immediately take it off to unbuckle the patriarchal chains that hold us down!

      Untie the bra that holds me (and my mammary glands) back! Let me be free! Free to define myself! Free to define who I am through my clothes! This surely will give me access to higher education, the same wages as a man, access to adequate health care, legal rights in the event that a man abuses me, stingent laws that protect my welfare, stave off sexual harrassment and rape, laws which place a man and woman equal under the eyes of a judge, and the guarantee to food, shelter, education, sustainable socio-economic status, and a life free of violence so that I can stand on my own two feet and I am not forced into a child marriage because my family is too poor, or end up being a sex worker and expose myself to HIV/AIDS because I’m too poor.

      Take off my bra so that I can gain all these rights and be FREE!

    41. Desi Italiana — on 15th October, 2007 at 9:37 am  

      Sid, I love you

    42. Desi Italiana — on 15th October, 2007 at 9:55 am  

      Katy:

      I agree with you.

      “But being able to dress the way you want, however you choose to exercise that right, is an important part of feminism.”

      Yes…except that it hasn’t done much for feminism!!!!! Even if I can wear what I want, that hasn’t stopped men who have penises in leiu of a brain from following me and scaring the shit out of me, rubbing up on me in tightly packed subways, shouting indecent proposals, groping, and getting physical with me which scares me out of my wits. I hate how I still check to make sure that I’m not dressed a certain way to “elicit” certain remarks. I resent this power that men have over our wardrobe, but there’s no need to even monitor how you dress yourself. Even wearing a thick hooded sweatshirt will not fend out inappropriate behavior.

    43. Refresh — on 15th October, 2007 at 11:25 am  

      “No one here on PP seems to have any inkling of what’s going on in terms of female movements in various countries, what they are saying, and how it doesn’t converge with what you folks are saying.”

      Never a truer word….

      Sadly this also applies to quite a few other issues.

      The third world needs to plough its own path of development, just as its women will be the true feminists of a just future.

      This also applies to development in technology, economics, environment etc.

      PP is a eurocentric existence and does not seem to pool or learn from other cultures or experiences - ironic to say the least.

    44. Monica Ali skewers Guardian in Guardian over Brick Lane demo hype | The Wardman Wire — on 15th October, 2007 at 12:08 pm  

      […] Sunny reports that Monica Ali (who wrote the book) has written in the Guardian Review Secton criticising the paper for stirring things up unnecessarily last year. […]

    45. Sunny — on 15th October, 2007 at 12:39 pm  

      Well said Desi Italiana.

    46. Sid — on 15th October, 2007 at 12:43 pm  

      Sid, I love you

      And I you, Desi Italiana.

    47. Ravi Naik — on 15th October, 2007 at 2:00 pm  

      Agreed. But when you have dealt with being groped at, recieved indecent proposals

      Still, that is no excuse to censor people. Share your experiences, and I will learn from them. But don’t assume that you are an authority and others should shut up because of that - all our experiences are limited and therefore biased. I do have 3 sisters, a wife and one day I might have a daughter, and so obviously I will not shut up, and neither should the other stereotypical males.

      Can you please tell me in real, substantiative terms what “rights” would a woman gain if she left her veil off? I don’t want to hear vague notions about “freedom” in what she wears. I’m talking about rights, and I’m curious as to how you define this.

      That is a total mischaracterisation of what I said.

      I *never* said that taking the veil off implies more freedoms to women, or even that it protects women against harrassment. I said that there is a strong correlation between countries which do enforce a dressing code to women and the rights that are given to them. Do not confuse correlation with causation.

      Unlike the US and most of continental Europe which enforces a melting pot (integrate or you are fringe), the UK folows multiculturism: which means that communities here in the UK can live exactly as they would in their own countries of origin. So it is not evil to assume that women who follow the same dressing code as was dictacted in their countries of origin, are being coherced to follow the same traditions here, specially 2nd and 3rd gen immigrants.

      It is not the veil itself that is the problem, but a full black veil in a western country in a 40C hot summer day, shows more of a symptom than the desease. So yes, it is much more than the veil.

      Another misunderstanding here is that I am talking about rights as protected by Law, and you are talking about violation of those rights. Let’s take racial discrimination: you would say that in Britain there are still hate crimes, discrimination in the work place, and looking at the statistics you can see that there are lot of cases that are reported. But there are hate crime laws as well as equal opportunity laws: and even though I can be a victim of discrimination, there are laws are there to protect me, and they are enforced. Compare that with Russia, where hate crimes are way under-reported, and discrimination is rampant and ignored by the authorities.

    48. Ravi Naik — on 15th October, 2007 at 2:56 pm  

      “I’m talking about rights, and I’m curious as to how you define this.”

      I am talking about rights defined by law which promote or do not hinder a women’s right to be independent as an individual. That includes laws which focus on women’s role in school, at work, restrictions when in public, and the stand in court in matters such as divorce, rape, harrassment.

      I wish to know if you see a correlation between countries that enforce a dress code on women and rights that are applied to them. No: a veil does not imply that the rights are curbed, nor lack of freedoms imply necessarily that a veil is imposed.

      But nonetheless, is there a correlation or not?

      Note that this is different from discussing whether having rights defined by law is a deterrent against violating them (which is what you were discussing when you talked about your experiences), and my answer to that is that having rights defined by law is not enough if there are not enforced, or even make it easier for the victim to come forward.

    49. fugstar — on 15th October, 2007 at 7:30 pm  

      This whole rather boring scenario reminds me of a film…

      Theres a line in Almost Famous when the lead guitarist of Stillwater is speaking off the record to the young starstruck music journalist.

      he goes ‘listen, just make us look cool’

      Monica apa didn’t, just because she is a girl doesnt mean that she cant be seen as pulling off clothes and confessionalising part of her heritage which we may or may not share.

      i think of the protestation more as ‘public editing from those being overexposed’.

    50. Gooch — on 18th October, 2007 at 3:18 pm  

      It is Monica Ali who is the hypocrite here since she has obviously benefitted (i.e., book sales and film promotion) from the media’s exaggeration of the protests in the Bangladeshi community in East London. What also bothers me about her is that since she is mixed-race and lives in a posh suburb far, far away from Brick Lane, she is hardly qualified to write about the poor Bengal immigrants of Hackney and Shoreditch. If Monica wants to write about the struggles and problems of a mixed-race girl in contemporary Britain that would be fine, but I will not accept her as an authentic “voice” of Bengalis in London.

    51. Maria — on 19th October, 2007 at 4:20 pm  

      Well I think the point is the differentiation between fact and fiction. If you are a white writer you can write about being a little green man without ever having been to the moon, and no-one questions it, just praises you for your “wonderful imagination.”

      But when it comes to being a non-white writer, your imagination is not allowed to fly. You are immediately positioned as a “commentator” on non-white culture, tightly defined by your colour. You can only write about certain things ie multiculturalism or the burkha or making samosas.

      Who puts non-white writers in this position? People like you, Gooch. You misunderstand the nature of literature, of fiction, of the right to imaginative freedom. Fiction is not about authenticity - it’s about imaginative interpretation of reality and showing another level.

      White writers are allowed to be complex beings. Us non-white writers must be defined only by their colour.

    52. Maria — on 19th October, 2007 at 4:24 pm  

      Also Gooch, as a fellow mixed race person of similar ilk to Monica Ali - Bengali father, white mother - I find your attitude all too common in the Asian “community.” The most racism I have ever experienced has come from Asians, not whites, because I am not seen as the “genuine article.”

    53. sonia — on 19th October, 2007 at 4:45 pm  

      seems to me its the other way around. its not about the writer per se, whatever ‘colour’ or gender or whatever - its about the perception of who is being ‘written’ about. and when it is seen ( for some reason it seems to be the case quite a bit) that you are writing about a ‘group’ - then people seem to think it is about ‘representation’ of the group as a bloc, and that’s whats funny.

      stories are about human beings, most stories actually reflect the commonality in our individual experiences, regardless of where we come from, our hopes dreams fears - as individuals.

      the problem is worrying about ‘is the community’ being seen like this, or is the ‘community’ like that. and also the related issue of authenticity - what right have you to speak for the community. well of course no one is speaking for anyone else - writing is an individual business. and its not a “consultation”. if you actually say happened to be Bengali and you wrote about bengalis, but you didn’t seem to be very Bengali yourself, there would be accusations. why - because the criticism isnt really about the writing or anything, its about groups, and group belonging, and ultimately, about social control.

    54. Gooch — on 20th October, 2007 at 5:01 pm  

      All I am saying is that Monica Ali is unqualified to write about the Bengali community of Brick Lane (and East London) because she never lived there and couldn’t possibly understand the people who do. What Monica does is very similar to what European writers do when they try to “understand”, say, Indian culture. It’s ONE perspective, but hardly the definitive one. Let me add that I am a Bengali Hindu who grew up in the suburbs of County Kent and (if I were a novelist) I wouldn’t even TRY to write about the lives and aspirations of the Bangladeshis in the East End. Because I am NOT qualified to do so and anything that I did write or say about them would likely be biased and inaccurate.



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