Stop targeting Muslims
Muslim communities don’t want to feel separate, we do not want to be ghettoised or live on the sidelines and we do not want to live in a society which is distinctly “us and them”.
We want to live practising our religion, talking in our many languages, wearing what we want to wear and we want everyone else to be able to do the same. Ultimately we want to live in peace and with freedom - which is supposedly a mission dear to Jack Straw’s heart.
Naturally we are on the defensive from what feels like a sustained attack on our culture, mosques, dress and religion. We feel targeted. This may be a confrontational position to take, and some may overreact, but this is not without good reason.
Jack Straw is right about one thing - there has been a significant increase in the number of women wearing the niqab as well as the hijab in the last five years. People of faith naturally grasp tightly to religious symbols in times of uncertainty and unease, because the one thing that we are certain about is our religion.
It isn’t a coincidence that a girl I know chose to wear the hijab the very day US and coalition forces attacked Iraq, just like it isn’t a coincidence that the number of women choosing to wear veils has increased since 9/11.
Tony Blair’s government need to take some responsibility for the problems that they conveniently lay at the door of Muslim families. Countless evidence points to war and injustice as a motivator for radicalisation and terrorist activity. Stigmatising and finger pointing causes more division than the cloth of a veil ever could.
The anti-war movement and human rights groups have been a prominent voice opposing attacks on Muslim communities both at home and internationally. The more I, as a Muslim, seek to avoid separation and segregation, the more I am asked to choose. My choice will always be in favour of freedom, peace, justice and unity - if this doesn’t aid social cohesion, nothing will.
Amara Ahmad, Huddersfield
I don’t understand how socialists can respond to the simplistic drivelling of the mainstream media (and politicians) by using simplicity themselves. To adamantly state that it’s a choice issue for “some Muslim women” to wear certain clothing is to ignore various facts.
Veils are more cultural than religious in origin and some Muslim women are forced to wear certain clothing by some Muslim men in their society.
To brush over these issues with a laissez faire swing of the hand while muttering “freedom of choice” is like stating that abused women who “choose” to stay with their husbands therefore aren’t abused.
What Jack Straw said wasn’t so much wrong as completely wrongly timed. When a community is already under siege by politicians, media, armies and everything else, you can hardly expect rational debate about an issue which is being forced down everyone’s throats. That’s what we socialists should be pointing out.
Mark van der Born, Manchester
I am a student at the University of Manchester and I was both appalled and shocked to read about plans by the government to ask lecturers and university staff to monitor “Asian looking” and Muslim students they suspect of involvement in “extremism”.
Though there will be people that commit so?called terrorist acts against everyday people to get their opposing voice across, the vast majority of people won’t. It seems that this is the start of an attempt by the government to eliminate all opposing voices to its policies in universities by putting them under the label of “terrorism”.
It is not difficult to understand why the government wants to silence these opposing voices. We can only hope that if this does happen the lecturers who receive the government’s “18 page document” will use their critical autonomy to see through this blatantly anti-democratic and authoritarian act, and simply ignore it.
Damian Hendry, Wigan, Lancashire
On Monday of last week I watched with increasing alarm as BBC2’s Newsnight led off with an attack on the government - for being too soft with control orders.
This was followed by an “investigation” into the “super mosque” proposed for the Olympic village at West Ham, east London. I know nothing about the ins and outs of the particular group that proposes to build the mosque, but I recognised a series of unsubstantiated and unspecific accusations made against them - for example, that the mosque was “insufficiently open”.
Following this “investigation” there was a discussion about Labour’s change of policy to racial and religious tolerance in which Tory MP Ann Widdecombe and a government minister agreed about how refreshing it was to be able to talk about immigration, asylum, the veil, etc. without being denounced as racist.
No one was there to put the argument that a series of senior Labour figures, through press releases over the last week, have made a concerted attempt to demonise Muslims in various ways. Widdecombe said this was a very good thing, while the minister denied it was happening.
I began to feel really afraid that a level of racism and intolerance to Muslims is being whipped up, on a scale I haven’t seen before. The government has completely lost the argument about war and may end up actually losing the war. That is why they and the BBC are willing to give voice to the most disgraceful racism. We must not let them succeed.
Robin Hirsch, East London
Tories are no answer
I was shocked to read Anwara Ali (Letters, 21 October) advocate voting Tory to get rid of Labour because they “are a better hope for those of us against the war than Labour”.
The Tories are opportunistically jumping on the anti-war bandwagon as something to bash Tony Blair with. But don’t believe that once the Tories get into power they’ll pull all the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and follow an anti?imperialist foreign policy.
All the major parties in Britain are committed to keeping Britain closely connected with the US as a way of retaining some semblance of British power in the world. Once the Tories are in office, they will stick to this.
Remember the Tories backed the Iraq war and the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs voted for it in parliament. David Cameron and his ilk are not people who should be rewarded by the anti-war movement.
We don’t want one pro-war and pro-privatisation party to be kicked out by another, which the British electoral system seems to endlessly repeat.
A much better hope for us all is continuing to mobilise the resistance on all fronts at the bottom of society and support grassroots parties such as Respect. That is the only way we’ll eventually see the fundamental change that we all desperately need.
Katherine Branney, East London
Solidarity in Kashmir
Islamophobia infects even the supposedly sympathetic reports on Kashmir’s recovery from the earthquake a year on, with the media focusing on “concerns” about the involvement of Islamic groups in earthquake relief in Pakistani Kashmir.
I was there this summer with a group of teachers from South Yorkshire involved in an earthquake relief education project. The mostly Muslim people there were the most hospitable and welcoming we’ve ever met. They hated the policies of our government, but were well aware that many British people are anti-war.
The irony is, that the real complaints we heard from Kashmiris on the ground were aimed at the Pakistan military who occupy this supposedly free area of Kashmir (which in reality has very limited autonomy).
The area is highly militarised, and the army, though less hostile than in the Indian-controlled region, is seen as having creamed off the best resources for themselves. The lack of reconstruction is shocking, with most schools still being in tents for instance.
We were privileged to get to know a strong socialist group in the area, Class Struggle, who have been central to organising a teachers’ strike in the area. It was great to see that internationalist, class-based militancy is alive and well, even in a remote town in Kashmir, and they were just as excited to make links with us.
James Oliver, Sheffield
More US arms for Turkey
Since Mizgin Yilmaz wrote her article on US arms sales to Turkey (Turkey, the Kurds and the F-16 connection, 14 October), we have discovered that the F-16 deal is but an appetiser for a much bigger $10 billion arms deal to Turkey.
There is competition between Lockheed Martin and a European group for the F-35 fighter jet contract, which will be decided later this year.
Clearly US general Joseph Ralston’s appointment as “special envoy” to Turkey has everything to do with arms sales and precious little to do with ending the Kurdish conflict that has claimed some 40,000 Kurdish lives.
Mark Campbell, North London
Sceptical over faith schools
It is amazing to note that Ruth Kelly’s “community cohesion” taskforce has explicitly ruled out of its remit anything to do with education - which is precisely one of the areas we DO need a debate about.
I also think we should be very sceptical about education secretary Alan Johnson’s talk of a 25 percent non?observant quota for faith schools.
This measure does not apply to the quarter of all existing primary schools which are run by Christians.
It also panders to prejudices based on the false assumption that the majority of new faith schools will be Muslim.
There is sufficient data around to say that the vast majority of adherents of all religions accept that faith schools are an anomaly in our wonderfully multicultural society. So scrap the lot of them, Johnson!
Nick Grant, West London
From Malthus to eugenics
Your article on the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch (Malthusian myth making in the media, 2 September) was very welcome, but you missed one important piece of information.
Migration Watch is linked directly to the eugenics movement launched in the 19th century by Francis Galton to promote the “improvement” of the human race by controlled selective breeding.
The connection is Migration Watch’s principal researcher and co-founder, David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University.
Coleman held various offices in the Eugenics Society from the early 1970s, until it changed its name to the less obviously contentious Galton Institute in 1988.
Bob Hughes, Campaign to Close Campsfield, Oxford
Anti-war film hits the spot
I’ve just watched the film Sir! No Sir! - it’s a marvellous account of the rank and file rebellion in the US military in Vietnam.
It covers protests, demonstrations, underground papers and the refusal to fight. As one soldier puts it, “They tried to turn me into a killing machine.”
I’ve had many conversations with soldiers on the street while selling Socialist Worker - they tell me that half of their unit disagrees with the war.
Given this, and the head of the army’s comments about his concerns over morale in the British army, I think everyone should see this film. Spread it around!
Graham Hodgin, West London
People power to unite Korea
All socialists should encourage North Korean workers to throw off the yoke of their so-called “communist” rulers.
It is up to the Koreans to set up a genuine democracy, not one based on Stalinist lies. It is up to the people to fight back against the system.
This means postive change in South Korea, too. People power is the answer to this division of the country - then North and South Korea can unite.
Graeme Kemp, Wellington, Shropshire