The Independent's Christine Patterson has responded angrily today to the criticisms made against her article 'The Limits of Multiculturalism', which a week ago took Stamford Hill's Hasidic Jewish community to task for its lack of manners.
The original piece has been ably dissected over at The Third Estate, which has questioned the way Patterson has leapt from her own feelings about the insularity and suspicion of one conservative minority community and generalised this into an attack on another, the Muslims inevitably, with the biggest leap being a causal link between religious obscurantism, the wearing of the niqāb and the vile practice of female circumcision. Patterson's own liberal cultural isolation is apparent from her belief that there is widespread support within Muslim communities for such amoral and criminal conduct. There isn't, but let's not let the facts get in the way of sweeping generalisations.
I've discussed before how those who are most irate about, say, a woman wearing a veil, angry enough to demand a rethinking of multiculturalism, have a great deal in common with those religious conservative men who seek to police the customs and behaviour of 'their' communities. By way of an example is this letter in support of Patterson's first piece, which reaffirms her basic argument and includes the following gem:
Try substituting genital mutilation and female circumcision for sexual violence, burka for mini-skirt and religious for secular and you get the following:
For some reason, it is acceptable to condemn genital mutilation yet not the wearing of the burka, despite the clear links between the two. Obviously, not all wearers of the burka support female circumcision; some do actually choose to wear it.
But the ideas that underpin female circumcision – female sexual pleasure is taboo; women are the sum total of their sexuality – and the burka are very similar. These practices are tolerated in the name of religious acceptance.
The niqāb may well be a a symbol of patriarchal oppression and, when it is strictly enforced , an instrument of oppression as well. But unless you can prove there is a direct link between a heinous criminal act and any item of clothing, you'll inevitably end up sounding like the granddaughter of Mary Whitehouse - just as conservative and narrow-minded as the people you point your finger at and accuse.
For some reason, it is acceptable to condemn sexual violence yet not the wearing of the mini-skirt, despite the clear links between the two. Obviously, not all wearers of the mini-skirt support sexual violence; some do actually choose to wear it.
But the ideas that underpin sexual violence – female sexual pleasure is taboo; women are the sum total of their sexuality – and the mini-skirt are very similar. These practices are tolerated in the name of secular acceptance.