The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

the politics of offense

Jack Straw mentions the palpably obvious—that, in London, covering your body from head to toe in an impenetrable black gown and peering at the world through a slit the size of a pack of cards tends to separate you from those around you—and is characterized as a racist anti-Muslim bigot.

The irony, of course, is that the niqab is intended to separate.

But that aside, the hullabaloo is a bit hard to understand at first, at least when you’re reading this stuff in Cairo.

Here, where the idea of freedom of religion is a sour joke unless you’re a Sunni Muslim, where racism (anti-black, anti-Jewish primarily) enjoys easy acceptance and where turning up to a demo to denounce a government figure will get you a date with a frustrated little man in Lazoughly who thinks a rolled up magazine is sex toy.

Now, Britain is replete with pasty-faced racists with angry little mouths who still spout the modern equivalent of "the WOGs begin at Dover." ("They hate our freedom" being one of the more popular these days).

And maybe leaders like MCB General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari, who characterized Straw's remarks as part of a "barrage of demonization," see sparking a vigorous public debate on minority rights as a healthy way to define their constituency's position in a modern multicultural society and a contribution to making sure that Great Britain doesn’t become as antagonistic to diversity and dissent as, say for example, Egypt.

But maybe, sadly, it's just that they’ve finally learned something from the ADL and AIPAC: take offense early, take offense often.