The rights and wrongs of Baroness Warsi

Baroness Warsi must be fuming. Her attempt at making herself the top story in every newspaper yesterday failed spectacularly, torpedoed as it was by Alan Johnson’s shock departure. Nonetheless what Warsi said deserves some examination. Her essential point, that Islamophobia has passed the ‘dinner table test’ has some truth to it.  Sure, it is totally correct that Warsi herself is not a paragon of enlightened virtue but that fundamentally does not invalidate everything she has to say on these issues.

Here is what she said:

For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate, even commendable, thing. You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table test.”

She makes no attempt to analyse how this has happened which is telling. Instead, we are left with an a priori assumption that this bigotry is something intrinsic which only inverts the sin she accuses others of. It’s my submission that this has happened largely as a result of the ideological response to 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’. It shouldn’t surprise us that when we are constantly told we are representing the ‘good’ crusading forces of ‘civilisation’ and our opponents are the ‘evil’ forces of  ‘barbarism’ lazy prejudice seeps in. It will be protested that this label is only applied to al Qaeda or other ‘extremists’ but the reality is political discourse relies on wild generalisations which take extreme examples and use them as a general stick with which to beat the rest.

People are, for example, encouraged to think of all benefit claimants in terms of the marginal and numerically small numbers of cases where people do exploit the welfare system for personal gain. We cannot then be surprised when this happens with race; when people start to assume guilt by association. This is the locus of truth in what Warsi is saying but she, of course, doesn’t have the courage to identify it. Being against ‘them’ is something of a badge of honour and a proof of your fidelity to the supposedly ‘civilised’ values espoused by Western politicians. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the ‘other’ by which the West defines itself has changed from being communism and socialism to Islamic extremism.

It doesn’t matter that we support what can easily be termed ‘fundamentalist’ regimes like those in place in Saudi Arabia. They are ‘good’ fundamentalists because they sell us oil at a  low price which deprives their people of a decent living every bit as much as the Saudi government deprives them of democracy. When you think it about it like that however, its not really surprising that many Muslim’s think the West is somewhat two-faced. The same is doubtless true of Baroness Warsi but that does not mean we should dismiss what she says without thought or consideration.