I had to think hard about the title of this post. Nick is all over the place this week, firing off in so many directions that it is difficult to see his central theme. Does he even have any central theme?
So it wasn’t easy to capture the essence of Nick’s article in one line, but my chosen title at least summarizes the subjects of his musings
His advocacy of secularism ( I think that’s what it is) results from Nick’s observations of a conference entitled “Women and entrepreneurial London” held at the London Muslim Center.
The building and the women are “bright” and “modern” and are concerned with “creating new businesses”. However a dark cloud appears in this bright and modern utopia in the form of a wide screen television showing a video of the local Imam giving his views on women and employment.
These are unsurprisingly conservative; women have many opportunities to create businesses, limited only by having to spend all their time looking after their husbands and children.
The villain of this particular piece of the column then is a religious leader preaching a religion, which calls for 7th century Arabian cultural norms being applied to 21st Century metropolitan London life. Or is it?
Two more shots are immediately fired off, I paraphrase but essentially he is saying “The Archbishop of Canterbury wouldn’t get away with it” and that this is (the old reactionary catch-all) “misuse of taxpayers money”.
The first point is not only nonsense, it is clumsily argued nonsense, a local Imam addressing a conference at the London Muslim Center is not an event in any way similar to the Archbishop of Canterbury addressing the CBI.
Nick rails at someone (anyone? everyone?) for the absurd assumption that the Bengali ladies at the London Muslim Center are all Muslims, and that possibly they choose to be listen to the TV Imam.
First off, London Muslim Center Nick. Second off as to the TV sermon, if there is any evidence of the women being coerced into attending the meeting or into watching the galloping Imam then I’m with Nick on this baby? If not, what is the issue Nick? What are you saying?
We get to Mail/Telegraph territory proper when Nick reveals that the conference is “supported by public bodies … University of East London…EU money sloshing around” (sic). This is clearly Decent Left speak for “taxpayers money” being wasted. Of course the subtext here is that the liberals who “slosh” this money around are the dupes of whoever it is that Nick is having a go at, was it just Islam or was it all revealed religions? You never really know with Nick.
As Nick seethes into the middle section of the column he gets a little scary. The Bengali women at the London Muslim Center are “for the purposes of official classification” Muslims. That’s it. No prior or further detail. Just “Muslims”.
Nick, you must know that depending on the nature of the office requiring classification (medical, social security, judicial) they will also be “women” and “Londoners” and “Asian” and “Bengali”.
I hope no one will ever be grouped into Nick’s suggested alternatives, “working (or indeed any other) class”, and “English” anything as opposed to “British” thesamething.
Notice that, English working class.
The last sentence of the paragraph I repeat in full. Nick reveals that somehow as a consequence of the liberals classifying the women as Muslims, “They were Muslims and their religious leaders must have a large say in how they lived” What can this mean, it seems to be saying “this group of women are classified by all officialdom simply as Muslims and therefore that their clerics must be allowed to tell them how to live.
To be fair to Nick, to understand why some Muslim women will actively seek a religious authority to guide their personal behaviour and others will not, it is necessary to know something of the history and culture of Islam and that is a complex subject.
It would also help of course to know the history of the particular group of women but hey, Nick is Generalissimo Generalization, they are Muslims. Nuff said.
Islam was initially a primitive Bedouin theocracy. The relationships between the heads of state and the clerics was such that that it was the religious leaders who interpreted and codified the Koran and the Hadith into the sharia, the state legal system (indeed in the early years of Islam the Heads of State were the religious leaders so there was no distinction between secular and religious law whatsoever)
There are now 4 systems of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, some more liberal than others. Many immigrants to Britain from the Indian subcontinent belong to the more conservative traditions.
Obviously the more traditional the system of law, the more rigid their interpretation of and adherence to the strictures of sharia law. Unless there is evidence to the contrary we must assume that these Bengali women choose to listen to conservative clerics. It wouldn’t be my choice and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be Nicks, but it’s theirs and it’s still a free country Nick.
Nick leaves nomenclature temporarily for a detour into more liberal-bashing. Apparently anti-racism isn’t what it used to be because today’s liberals allow people of different religions to be treated differently by their religious leaders and some of those religions have brown people in them.
Nick tells us “now there are different rules for different religions”. What are these rules exactly Nick? Alas we are not told. Difficult to say much about this as it’s such bollocks.
I think every time he says liberals in this section of the column he means “those that work in the public services”, the official classifiers etc, and that it is they that “…have segregated with the enthusiasm of an apartheid police chief and left common humanity out in the cold” You are a nutter Nick.
Nick goes for the old columnular standby now, “when in trouble give a condescending show of support for Hazel “clumsy” (NC) Blears. In this section Nick has come up with his classification for official classifiers, (that is the public service liberals, I know, it’s tortuous) they are “segregationists”. That’s a vile word to use Nick.
In Cohen’s world, the pointy-head metropolitan liberal sophisticates rubbish Blears’ contributions to the ongoing effort to not be blown up while going about our daily lives, because they remember the Dome and Cool Britannia. This PHML thinks that changing what some people call some other people is not going to do anything to ensure my medium term safety, and therefore is a waste of valuable time.
Incidentally, I was neither for nor against Hazel Blears until I saw her on TV squirming as she refused to condemn The Sun for the Saddam underpants photos. This was a week or two after the 7th May election day “VOTE BLAIR” headline. It seemed to me that her extraordinary acquiescence in the unpleasant and dangerous antics of the Sun, and that organ’s support for New Labour were in some way linked. Since then I have doubts about her integrity.
Back to classification Not official this time (I don’t think) but everyday words for non-white people. Nick tells us that until the 1980’s all non-white people, Afro-Caribbean, Asian, (“even at it’s broadest anyone with a dark skin” says Nick) were called Blacks. Not by me they weren’t but lets assume they were.
Although they later became “blacks and Asians”, in Nick’s book, they were still one homogenous group, those people that had “a common interest in fighting colour prejudice”. I would have thought that includes most people of whatever colour but let’s persevere.
This part of the column ends on the bizarre claim that “The Commission for Racial Equality still works on the old notion of solidarity but everywhere else it is in retreat”
I can’t think how you would either prove or disprove that statement, or indeed what it is precisely that Nick is trying to say. One thing I do know is that it is aimed once again at “liberals” That’s where “the old notion of solidarity” (as worked on by the CRE) is in retreat. It’s them official classifiers again.
Nick thinks a lot about categorisation. He explains its centrality to his philosophy with some crap about a Community Center.Essentially some categories are broad and good and some are narrow and bad.
The worst categorisation is religious. That excludes all people not of that religion and therefore is the most exclusive. Well it depends where the community Center is Nick. If it’s a Muslim community Center in Lahore, it won’t be exclusive at all. You berk.
All this is illustrated by example of the narrowing categories “Anyone” “Asians” and “Sikh/Muslim/Hindu”. Nick says there are very few Catholic or Jewish centres in the East End now.
I don’t think that Nick objects to community centres for specific groups (religious or other shared interest) as such, I think he may be concerned about them being “supported by public bodies”. Official classifiers may be wasting taxpayers money.
Nick moves on, back to liberals. This time I think that he means all liberals not just those liberals engaged in officially classifying other people for the public services.
Anyway, in the 1990’s the liberals did something to do with stopping being cautious about other people defining themselves by their religion, “segregation by faith could seem the free thinking thing to do”. That word segregation again, sends shivers down my spine. Segregation can lead to some very bad places.
The thing is, I must have missed that happening in the 1990’s, but I would say that the people I know who I would describe as liberal have always been notable for their acceptance of all people and peoples, and their respect for all people and peoples so maybe Nick has got that “changed in the 1990’s” thing wrong.
You see that’s what liberals do Nick, be liberal about stuff. Thus if someone wishes to be defined by their religion and assuming that their religion is neither illegal or morally suspect, liberals accept that, liberals respect that. Always have always will.
The offensive rubbish Nick writes about the liberals (this time he possibly refers only to media and diplomatic liberals) being responsible in some unidentified way and to some unidentified extent for the evils that erupted in the former Yugoslavia is both comic and tragic.
Comic because the daft things he says did actually make me laugh, and tragic because either he knows it is rubbish and is therefore not being honest or he doesn’t know it is rubbish and is therefore bonkers.
I followed the Yugoslav situation reasonably closely and do not recall the term Bosnian Muslims being used unless ethnic Bosnians who were Muslims were being differentiated from the Bosnian Serbs.
Nick, in Bosnia there were Bosnians who were Muslims and Serbians who had been moved to Bosnia by Tito and were neither Bosnians nor Muslims even though they had settled in Bosnia. Under those circumstances “Bosnian Serbs” and “Bosnian Muslims” seems like a reasonable categorization. Also Nick, Croatia was a different war and isn’t relevant in this context.
The “exiles” and their “jaw dropping moment” at Kirsty Wark (media liberal and obviously an aspirant official categoriser) sounds like a “were you up for Portillo” type thing, but I don’t remember it and actually I don’t believe Nick knows any “exiles” (exiles from where and why they are exiles is not explained ). By this point in the column I’m pretty sick of Nick and his nasty insinuations.
Next some nonsense about unemployment and some more categorisation. This time it’s the office of national statistics and male unemployment rates. Nick says that the categories are “Muslims” and “Christian men”. Nick thinks that “Christian men” really means “white men” which makes me wonder what category black non-Muslim unemployed men would be in. Maybe Nick thinks that all Black people are Muslims. I am starting to think Nick is making it up.
The Muslim Council of Britain aren’t interested in things like male Muslim unemployment according to Nick, they are purely sectarian, sometimes repellently so. The Observer today carries an investigation into the MCB, it seems that there may be a hardline Deobandi element (although reading Maulana Maudidi is not yet a criminal offence.) but Nick doesn’t really address this , simply rerunning the Panorama story from the investigation.
Finally, Nick quotes Hazel “Clumsy” Blears” and asks ominously if poor Hazel knows how many people have an interest in ripping society apart. Do you Nick? Who are they Nick.
On a lighter note, good to see that Nick has stepped into Dave Aaronovitch’s shoes and is now the owner of the Blue Space on the Observer letters page. I can hear the gravelly voice now”The big issue WAS David Aaronovitch: The Big Issue IS Nick Cohen”