There is more to the poppy hijab that there initially appears. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty
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The poppy hijab is just Islamophobia with a floral motif

The poppy hijabs have become a politically correct way of airing a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”. The wearing – or not wearing – of a patriotic hijab becomes a shrouded loyalty test.

For some time, my research has shown that Muslim women who wear the hijab or other types of Muslim attire are the most likely to become victims of street-level Islamophobia. The explanation is simple: those wearing the hijab are easily recognisable as being Muslim. For perpetrators, the hijab is also seen to symbolise Islam, or more appropriately, all that they perceive to be wrong or problematic about Islam.

In recent weeks however, the hijab appears to have taken on a new symbolic value. The Daily Mail has publicised a campaign to get British Muslim women wearing hijabs designed with a poppy motif in the run up to Remembrance Day on 11 November.

The Mail loves the poppy hijab.

The paper suggested the poppy hijab “defies the extremists” and can be worn as a rebuke to Muslims who “spout hatred” about the British armed forces – such as those who have burned poppies around Remembrance Day in the past.

The hijab is being backed by the Islamic Society of Britain and think tank British Future to mark 100 years since the first Muslim soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, seemed to suggest in a comment to the Mail that this hijab would help divert attention away from the “angry minority” who offend people with their views.

The Sun’s take on patriotism.

A few weeks earlier, the Sun trod a similar path in an article about British Muslims and Islamic State extremism. Its front page was emblazoned with a full-page image of a woman wearing a hijab fashioned from a Union flag. The headline, United against IS was accompanied by a sub-heading urging “Brits of all faiths to stand up to extremists”.

But there is more to the poppy hijab than either the Daily Mail or Ahmed would have us believe. As Nesrine Malik wrote in the Guardian in response to the Sun’s choice of front-page image, these re-appropriations of the hijab can be little more than proxies for anti-Muslim bigotry. They become a politically correct way of airing a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”. The wearing – or not wearing – of a patriotic hijab becomes a shrouded loyalty test.

The poppy hijab however takes the Sun’s loyalty test a step further. Muslims are being asked to not only pledge their allegiance to Britain but so too its armed forces. Not only do Muslims have to prove they’re not the enemy but so too that they’re not a traitor either.

Under pressure

This is not a new issue, even as it takes a new floral form. New Labour, for example, launched the now defunct National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group back in 2007. And ever since then, politicians – whose plans were often backed by various Muslim representatives and spokespeople – have endorsed the view that Muslim women are uniquely placed to influence and challenge the perverted ideology spread by extremists.

Employing the language of counter-insurgency throughout, the mantra that has emerged is one which depicts Muslim women as able to play – on behalf of the state – a crucial role in the winning of hearts and minds in the fight against extremism and radicalisation.

The poppy hijab sits within this broader political landscape. Maybe some feel this it necessary to produce such a garment, just in case British ground forces go into Iraq or Syria in the not-too-distant future. But it’s difficult to see how it could ever be seen as a well-meaning initiative by the Muslim groups and organisations that are complicit in its sale.

In response to criticism about the Daily Mail article, Ahmed has attested that no one is being “urged” to wear anything but they are evidently being encouraged to. Making unreasonable demands of Muslims – for whatever reason – is never going to have a positive outcome, especially not Muslim women. It merely contributes to the normalised culture of intolerance that is increasingly evident in Britain.

What is interesting from my research into the experiences of Muslim women who are victims of street-level Islamophobia, is that irrespective of their age, ethnicity or indeed anything else that makes them who they are as individuals, the actual women behind the hijab – the symbol of Islam – remains completely invisible to perpetrators. They are Muslim and nothing else.

And what is most sad about these recent attempted to make the hijab a symbol of patriotism or anti-extremism is that Muslim women are expected to comply without question. They are to wear these farcical hijabs as symbols of their loyalty to Britain and its armed forces. And again – just as with more overt forms of Islamophobia – the woman actually wearing the hijab is completely invisible.

Chris Allen does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Chris Allen is a Lecturer in the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham. He is on Twitter as @DrChrisAllen.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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