Back in June, Tony Parsons wrote a column for the Daily Mirror in which he parroted the ignorant view expressed by Andrew Gilligan that there had been no significant upsurge in hate-crime against the Muslim community in the aftermath of the horrific killing in Woolwich on 22 May. Parsons assured his readers: “The ‘anti-Muslim backlash’ is somewhere between a grotesque exaggeration and a plain old lie. The British are a civilised, polite, tolerant people – and even after the hideous murder of young Lee Rigby, that is what we remain.”
As evidence of this civilised, polite, tolerant approach Parsons offered the following anecdote about an experience in Oxford Street a couple of days earlier: “I saw two women in full Burkhas – the head-to-toe black cloak that a tiny minority of Muslim women wear – walking in the sunshine outside Selfridge’s. They looked like Batman and Batman. Were they harassed? Were they abused? Were they blamed for the hideous crimes done by madmen in the name of their religion? No. No. No. In the blazing summer sunshine of London, the tolerant British people never gave them a second glance.”
That seems a clear enough argument. It is a mark of the admirable tolerance to be found among the “British people” (who are apparently distinct from the British Muslim community) that they take a relaxed view of the niqab and have no problem at all with Muslim women who wear it.
The irony of this argument, coming from Parsons, is that he shows no such tolerance himself. Back in 2006 he told Mirror readers that a young Muslim woman who wanted to wear the veil should be given “a one-way ticket to Afghanistan”. Parsons adopts the same aggressive stance in today’s Sun on Sunday, stopping just short of advocating an outright ban on the niqab, which he claims is “not a symbol of belief but a belligerent statement of separation”, adopted by “a group of people who want to enjoy the benefits of living in this country yet do not share this country’s values”.
Parsons writes: “Britain is not a blank wall on which anyone is free to impose their will – no matter how bigoted, or misogynistic, or medieval. And sadly, the full-body veil is all of those things. We can be proud of our tolerance and generosity but we have been far too passive, far too accepting. We degrade and diminish our own freedoms when we start accommodating the intolerant.” He concludes: “We have every right in the world to say – this is still our country. Love it or leave it.”
So when Parsons wants to downplay the prevalence of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred, he applauds the non-Muslim majority population for their tolerant attitude towards the niqab, but when he sets out to stoke up the very Islamophobia whose existence he denies, tolerance of the niqab is condemned as an example of woolly liberalism.
We’re all equals in UK. Like it or leave
Sun on Sunday, 22 September 2013
By Tony Parsons
OUR multi-racial, multi-cultural country can only ever work if it is built on mutual respect – a tolerant, welcoming host nation and immigrants who truly want to be a part of the United Kingdom.
Separation does not work. Ghettos do not work. And they will never work in our homeland.
The debate about full-face, full-body veils goes to the heart of what kind of country we want to live in.
It is possible that you do not know your hijab (the Muslim head scarf) from your niqab (full face veil leaving the eyes exposed), or your burka (full face and body cloak) from your elbow.
But you know exactly how you feel when you see a woman — or even tiny little girls — in their Darth Vader drag. Many of us find them offensive, an affront to our fundamental belief that men and women are equal.
The British are the most tolerant people on earth.
My daughter is one of the ten per cent of British children who live in a mixed-race family.
My wife was born on the other side of the planet, in Yokohama, Japan.
Our family is enriched by the culture of two great nations, and we are deeply proud of both of them.
But although our home contains two languages, two religions and two cultures, our little family is 100 per cent British.
Because you are only excluded from British society if you choose to be excluded. Nobody cares if a Christian wears a cross, or a Sikh a turban, or a Jew a yarmulke.
But the full-face, full-body veil worn by some Muslim women is different.
It is not a symbol of belief but a belligerent statement of separation.
It suggests a group of people who want to enjoy the benefits of living in this country yet do not share this country’s values.
In an open, tolerant society like ours there will always be a balance to be struck between respecting someone’s beliefs and common sense.
And it is patently absurd that anyone in a full-face veil should be allowed to give evidence in court, or administer to patients in a hospital, or pass through airport security.
And equally absurd to say that a classroom full of veiled little girls are choosing to dress that way of their own free will.
Something in our national consciousness recoils from the French ban on wearing niqabs in public.
It doesn’t feel right to the British to tell someone how to dress.
But dressing like Batman in a public space can never be healthy.
If you come to this country, then you should feel some respect for British traditions such as freedom, equality and openness. Terrified of sounding like racists, we have been too timid to say British beliefs are as deeply held as anybody else’s beliefs.
We have bent over backwards to accommodate people who have come to this country.
And as someone who married an immigrant 21 years ago, I am profoundly grateful for my country’s generosity to outsiders.
We make people welcome.
But Britain is not a blank wall on which anyone is free to impose their will — no matter how bigoted, or misogynistic, or medieval.
And sadly, the full-body veil is all of those things.
We can be proud of our tolerance and generosity but we have been far too passive, far too accepting.
We degrade and diminish our own freedoms when we start accommodating the intolerant.
This is not Saudi Arabia. This is not Pakistan. Women and girls are not chattels. This is Britain. We don’t do ghettos.
It is not racist to stand up for a free and open society where men and women and boys and girls are all equal.
That’s the nation I want my daughter to grow up in.
We have every right in the world to say — this is still our country.
Love it or leave it.