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.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era