Sabina’s Dinner Party

Last night my wife and I were lounging on a cozy sofa, having stuffed ourselves on a superb dinner, and indolently listened to our savvy hostess, Sabina* and her culinarily well endowed husband, Javed* hold forth. The conversation all evening had been light, throwaway and wickedly funny. By the time they touched on the Jack Straw veil debate the mood turned markedly downcast.

“We’re being forced to take sides and I for one am not going to be on Straw’s side on this”, said Sabina.

She then went on to formulate her point, which was this: After years of political activism and working with women’s NGOs in Bangladesh (where a real battle to elevate the rights of women to be on par with men has been waged for years) and fighting against Jamaati fundmentalism in the 80s and 90s, Jack Straw’s comments in the context of the political climate that currently operates in the UK, amounted to the Straw (pardon the pun) that broke her back. It made her want to run and support women use their right to wear the burkha (with pride!), rather than get dragooned into support of Straw’s new career.

The friends all agreed and a lively debate then erupted on how moderate Muslims in British society were being forced to support religious politics that they had hitherto struggled against. Some said that it was still important to continue the fight against the religious ossification that had stunted Bangladeshi society in the UK and which was being exported back to the “motherland” wholesale. Other voices said that Jack Straw was simply a career politician whose Iraqi CV didn’t give him an iota of moral credibility to “impose himself on Muslims”.

The irony is that none of Sabina’s party guests hold their religious identities as their primary identifier. They’re well-educated intellectual types who are naturally inclined to liberal values and who would have no difficulty integrating and assimilating into any Western society. They belong to a strata of secular Bangladeshis, who have pitted their wills against religious fundamentalism from the year dot (or 1971 at least). So it’s doubly ironic and not a little tragic that the media and political situation of overwhelming anti-Muslim bias that is currency in the British MSM right now has transformed these people from being natural born secular pluralists into simply “Muslims”. They’re backed into a corner and forced to take sides in a sensationalist game of identity politics played out on the terms of headline-hungry politicians.

But Sabina’s guests are not the only ones who are picking up these signals. Asim Siddiqui is similarly depressed that we have, collectively as a nation, come to this brain-dead impasse.

What should the sane majority (I’m assuming the majority out there is still sane) do - whether Muslim or not? I’m not sure, but unless moderate views can be presented as more inspiring or rating-grabbing I fear this sensationalism-feeding-paranoia-feeding-sensationalism will just continue on a downward spiral. We will all get increasingly sick of the “other” and community relations will be made worse.

And in addition, it means that we will alienate liberal, moderate Muslims who are, as a collective, still struggling to find their voice. It’s a shame that the British media and politicians cannot tell them apart from the real Muslim extremists.

*Names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

65 Responses to “Sabina’s Dinner Party”

  1. MadPriest Says:

    Would Jack Straw ask a motorcyclist to remove his helmet before having a conversation with him? I always do for exactly the same reason Jack Straw says he asks women to remove a veil if they are wearing one.

    If he doesn’t, then he is being racist. If he does, then he is not.

    Also, I don’t think Muslims understand our fear of people hiding their faces. If you work in a bank and somebody comes in wearing a balaclava, you hit the floor quickly and press the alarm. Hoodies are hated because they hide their faces so they can commit crime without being recognised. TV and films have shown us these images of criminality being connected to the covering of the face all our lives. Some of us are just waiting for white criminals to start dressing up as Muslim women when they carry out armed robberies.

    I also understand the problems you and your friends are facing at the moment. I am a liberal Christian, a veteran of Brick Lane in 1978, yet we are finding ourselves being pushed into defending people who we would never have aligned ourselves with before. Muslims keep telling us that they feel under attack in England. The irony is that non-Muslims feel the same - that is why, even pc veterans like Straw are getting defensive and a bit aggresive.

    What might be beneficial, in that it might make our identity known to a wider public, is some sort of getting together between real liberal Muslims and real liberal Christians.

    What’s up with Spirit21? She’s been saying some odd and unhelpful things on her blog lately. I rely on the two of you to keep me informed and educated in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve just killed your grandmother.

  2. joe Says:

    I’ve been feeling exactly this way for the past couple of nights — since straws tirade against the veil.

    I’m so secular I’m almost Richard Dawkins but after Straw’s comments and hearing rumours (unconfirmed) of women having their veils ripped off their faces I wonder if I’m beginning to smell the coffee.

  3. sonia Says:

    Very interesting points Sid - i see exactly what you mean.

  4. Abcd Says:

    what we have here, as the warden said, is failure to communicate.

    we have a minority who never used to wear a veil but who now wear it increasingly as a symbol of EXCESS and demonstrative piety, and also as a way to say F**K YOU to the majority.

    and believe me that’s what they are saying. “integration” is the furthest thing from their minds. the degree of contempt and loathing that these people feel for most of british society is quite something else.

    this is dysfunctional immigration - a bunch of defiant hostile suspicious immigrants looking out at a baffled and also increasingly hostile host community.

    recipe for disaster.

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    Who is this Sabina, does make good aloo vortha?

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