David Cameron’s discriminatory attacks on Muslim women this week have come under fire. Even former Tory chair Baroness Warsi called his plan to target those who don’t learn English “lazy” anti-Muslim “stereotyping”.
Cameron is on a mission to entrench racism, particularly against Muslims and migrants. He wants to divide resistance and justify repression.
But the reaction against him underlined how, despite scaremongering about “self-segregation”, people aren’t so easily divided.
Muslims and non-Muslims often live and work side by side.
It is also a testament to the gains made by decades of united struggle against racism.
Most recently the wave of support for refugees has dented politicians’ anti-immigration consensus.
Cameron understands this—and is determined to roll it back.
That’s why, when declaring support for restrictions on headscarves and veils, he distanced himself from “the more French sort of approach” of an all-out ban. He knows many people rightly regard with horror the deepening Islamophobia in France—and the fascist Front National it feeds.
Instead he said he would back schools, hospitals, courts or other institutions that ban the garments.
Coverage focused on Cameron’s claim that the full face veil worn by a small minority could thwart identity checks.
Yet women in veils already have to lift them for identity checks.
The new measures include the hundreds of thousands who wear a headscarf.
Cameron said he would “always come down on the side of” schools that decided headscarves are non-uniform.
This is exactly how the ban started in France. Several schools began to exclude female students in the headscarf in 1989, to assert their interpretation of secularism.
At first this was very controversial—and found to have no basis in law. But the Labour-type Socialist Party government declared that schools could decide on a case by case basis.
From then on the rights of Muslims were up for debate. New decrees made bans the default for schools, not the exception.
A total ban in 2003 opened the door to over a decade of tightening restrictions.
These bans are not about liberating Muslim women.
They exclude more women from school and college, or lock them out of jobs.
This, not “Muslim culture”, traps many in isolation.
And stigmatising veils and headscarves makes Muslim women a prime target for racist attacks.
It is urgent that we build a mass movement to stop him. That starts with making the anti-racist demonstrations on Saturday 19 March bigger than ever before.