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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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation