As ever, the headlines are more sensational than the speech, but marginally so in this case. Baroness Warsi has asserted that Islamophobia is rife and socially acceptable in Britain. It is a peculiarly crass statement for an ordinary politician to have made, but, then again, the gabbing Baroness is a very ordinary politician.
Some of her speech is sensible, even unanswerable. She attacks the media and the arts for ‘the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters.’ Questioning faith is the natural and welcome adjunct of a free society, but specific criticism is morphing into general hostility. Elements of the Jewish community walk in fear of rising anti-Semitism; the Pope’s visit was threatened by a preposterous attempt to arrest the Pontiff for crimes against humanity; often, the Catholic Church is described as ‘evil’ in its entirety.
Also, I have sympathy for Warsi’s cultural point that language is used irresponsibly. The use of ‘moderate’ in relation to Muslims observant of their faith and culture is divisive, recalling Jonathan Miller’s quip about being ‘Jew-ish, not the whole hog.’ But I’m not sure which other term is suitable; even the most accommodating commentators do not use the word ‘liberal’ in conjunction with Islam, as they might with Judaism for instance.
However, Warsi deserves most of the opprobrium she is receiving: saying that Islamophobia has ‘passed the dinner party test’ is as absurd as Lord Tebbit’s ‘cricket test’. Intriguingly, her metaphor is inspired by the politics of envy and class animus, which is the most visible but least debated division between the Muslim community and the rest of Britain. I wonder if it was deliberate.
Above all of her errors though, Warsi denounces those who differentiate between ‘moderate’ and ‘extreme’ Islamic religious culture, which is to ignore the clear, present and dangerous distinction – an unforgivable oversight in a government minister, even one denied a portfolio. Warsi then compounds her error by analysing extremism solely with reference to terrorism. Islamism is compromised of many more barbaric crudities than the suicide bomber. Honour killings, arranged marriages within families, the oppression of women and homosexuals etc, etc, etc should be inimical to liberal society.