In early October, Jack Straw announced in various media interviews that he didn’t like his constituents to be wearing the burqa when conversing with him. This was followed by a lot of debate about how Jack Straw and anybody else had a perfect right to say it was difficult to communicate with people whose faces can’t be seen while at the same time women had every right to wear burqas if they really felt they must.
Was there really such a shortage of actual news that day that Jack Straw’s little prejudices – and the defence of them – were worthy of being mentioned at all, never mind being the leading headline? It is hardly news that people can feel uncomfortable in the presence of those whose appearance is unusual – eg, young men with Mohican hairstyles, women whose face is pierced in several places wearing ghoulish makeup etc.
So Jack Straw is someone who can’t see beyond appearances, like many other people. So what!
If this information was turned into ‘news’, it can only have been because the political wing of the British bourgeoisie consider it desirable at this moment in time to turn up the volume on racist agitation. They want to provoke animosity between different sections of the working class, and it can be guaranteed that raising this issue was nothing more nor less than an incitement to racial hatred.
Already, gangs of fascist-sympathising yobs are reportedly tearing the veils off muslim women they happen to chance upon in the street. If the muslim community defends itself, the newspapers and television screens will be full of condemnation for ‘religious fundamentalism’ and ‘violent Islam’ and the government can then turn the police out to arrest lots of people so that old ladies feel that they can sleep safely in their beds.
What is the reason for the powers that be deliberately to be ratcheting up race hatred?
A major reason is of course that people from the muslim community are immune to the propaganda used by US and British imperialism to mobilise for war against countries that are predominantly muslim. There are a large number of muslims in this country who would be willing to work to sabotage the British imperialist war effort, and the British bourgeoisie is anxious to create a wall between them and the rest of the working class. As a minority, they cannot do much harm, but as people who can influence their workmates, they are a real threat to British imperialism – such is the reasoning of the ruling class.
One fears that a further reason behind the Jack Straw provocation is that his faction in the Labour Party is minded to introduce a whole host of further repressive measures against the British working class, in case they are needed in the light of measures being considered to increase capitalist profits by rather major and sudden withdrawal of benefits that workers have come to expect. Already there are suggestions that anger at the dismantling of the NHS is brewing trouble that might reach the proportions of the poll tax riots – but what if something even more drastic is being planned?
The one thing that can seriously weaken the working-class struggle to defend its interests is to divert that struggle down the path of racism – just as the Nazis were able to do – and years of demonisation of immigrants and asylum seekers by the bourgeois media has left the British working class very vulnerable on this point. It is essential that even those of us who have an irrational fear of burqas should not allow ourselves to be led down this divisive route. We should understand the signs that ‘our’ bourgeoisie is up to no good, and we must do everything possible to build up the unity of all sections of the working class for the forthcoming struggle.