Brendan O’Neill

The curious reaction to a niqab-wearing homophobe

The curious reaction to a niqab-wearing homophobe
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Are we allowed to criticise the niqab yet? This question crossed my mind as I watched that viral clip of a niqab-clad woman hurling homophobic invective at a Pride marcher in Walthamstow in London. Surely now it will become acceptable to raise questions about this medieval garment (banned in several Muslim countries) and about the views and attitudes of those who wear it?

On one level, the footage of the niqab-wearering lady spouting anti-gay hate wasn’t very surprising. Shocking, yes, but not surprising. It’s not as if someone who covers themselves from head to toe in archaic black cloth (which, as Qanta Ahmed has said, is not in the least suggested let alone mandated by the Koran) is going to hold enlightened views on sexuality. Stop the press — religious fundamentalist is not a fan of gay sex!

Disgusting homophobic abuse at those on Waltham Forest Pride today.

No matter what form hate comes in, we must stamp it out and say no to all forms of hate! Also, very importantly we cannot call out one form of hate but be silent/complicit on others. @GalopUK @stonewalluk

— Yusuf Patel (@YusufJP_) July 27, 2019

‘Shame on you’, the woman shouts at the man who is draped in a Pride flag. ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’, she continued, bizarrely adding a dash of old, Alf Garnett-style homophobia to her broader Koran-inspired loathing of homosexuality. I guess this is a kind of ‘melting pot’ of cultures — 1950s-style homegrown homophobia with a dash of Eastern-inspired extremism.

The clip has caused much discomfort in woke-left circles. After all, the woke crew like gay people and women who wear the niqab. How are they meant to respond to such a public spat between two of their favourite identity groups?

What a pickle. Condemn the religious nutter and risk joining Boris Johnson in that camp of nasty Islamophobes who slag off niqab-wearers? Or be soft on the screaming lady and risk implying that it is sometimes okay to bark insults at gay people? What is an intersectional leftist to do!

Their solution, it seems, is to be more gentle with this homophobe than they would be with other homophobes. The local MP Stella Creasy says she was ‘gutted’ to see this clash — a tellingly passive word.

The Independent’s coverage dances around the fact that the woman was wearing a niqab, informing its readers that the abusive woman was ‘dressed in black, with a black veil and black-rimmed glasses’. Okay. Can we be more specific? She was wearing ‘clothing commonly associated with female followers of Islam’, the paper said. We got there in the end! Strikingly, the Indie report doesn’t mention the word ‘niqab’. Perhaps it thought mentioning the N-word would set off the Islamophobes.

And is it only me who finds it pretty alarming that the victim of the woman’s abuse says in response to her, ‘We still love you’? Another Pride attendee can be heard informing her that ‘fascists’ say the same thing about her as she is saying about gay people. Why such leniency? Why didn’t they tell her to eff off, as they undoubtedly, and rightly, would have done if it had been any other kind of anti-gay hysteric?

All you have to do is imagine if the person shouting anti-gay abuse had been a big white bloke with an east London accent and loads of tattoos and a St George’s flag hanging from his back pocket. Do you think Ms Creasy would only have been ‘gutted’ in that instance? Or that the Twitterati would have been as cagey as they have been in response to the niqab loon? Of course not.

And herein lies the problem. It is precisely the obsessive ringfencing of Islam from normal levels of scrutiny that encourages some of its adherents — some, note — to cling to backward views.

If your views are never confronted, and in fact are protected from confrontation by an Islamophobia industry that depicts virtually any criticism of Islam as a hate crime, how are you ever meant to rethink what you think? To change your mind? To analyse your beliefs and try to move forward to a more progressive view of the world?

If this niqab-wearing woman thinks she can waltz through her community hurling backward religious hatred at gay people, should we really be surprised? After all, she lives in a country where even criticising the niqab itself is a no no, as Boris discovered when he rightly called it an oppressive and ridiculous garment, and also rightly said it should not be banned.

Boris was right. The niqab is ridiculous and oppressive. It is also anti-social, a big, black ‘screw you’ to contemporary society. It is a hostile garment, declaring the wearer’s fealty to archaic religious values and her disdain for the liberal, licentious society she lives in.

It shouldn’t be banned, of course. Women must be free to wear it. But by the same token the rest of us must be free to say that it is a stupid and offensive thing to wear and that the Waltham Forest homophobe is probably fairly typical of those who wear it.

Things have now been made worse by the involvement of the police, who are investigating this woman’s alleged hate crime. We don’t need more authoritarianism. We don’t need more speech-policing. We just need a more open and critical public sphere in which everything, including Islam, is up for debate.