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Islamophobia is the moral blind spot of modern Britain

No one actually comes out and directly says "I hate Muslims" – at least, not on the liberal dinner party circuit that was the target of Lady Warsi's speech. Conversations generally begin with the sort of anxieties that many of us might reasonably share: it cannot be right for women to be denied access to education in some Islamic regimes; the use of the death penalty for apostasy is totally unacceptable; what about the treatment of homosexuals? The conversation then moves on to sharia law or jihad or the burqa, not all of it entirely well informed. Someone places their hands across their face and peers out between their fingers. Another guest giggles slightly. Someone inevitably mentions 9/11. Later, guests travel home on the tube and look nervously at the man in the beard sitting opposite.

The problem Warsi identifies is the problem of slippage. What can begin as a perfectly legitimate conversation about, say, religious belief and human rights, can drift into a licence for observations that in any other circumstance would be regarded as tantamount to racism. Like the 19th-century link between anti-Catholicism and racism towards the Irish, one can easily bleed into the other.

"I treat the Islamic religion with the same respect as the bubble-gum I scrape off my shoe," suggested one contributor to the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, in response to Warsi's speech. Another offered the following charming observation: "I don't care what the good or bad Baroness has to say about anything at all. I give her no credence nor voice. She is a person of faith so in my book a skinwaste." I cannot think of a single other group in our society about whom such vile remarks would be in any way socially acceptable. And OK, these are comments whose surface grammar is about Islam and religion. Nonetheless, the level of invective is very obviously personal..

Read on

Giles Fraser is canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral

TAGGED: ISLAM


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