The 131-member Scottish Parliament had, at the last count, four Muslim members, including one of the major party leaders and of course the First Minister himself. A healthy representation, one would have thought, and certainly well above the proportion of Muslims in the Scottish population as a whole, which works out at about 1.5%.
This did not deter its Cross-Party Group on Challenging Racial and Religious Prejudice from publishing a report on Tuesday saying that Scotland remained a hotbed of hatred directed at Muslims and that a great deal more needed to be done about it. Produced under the auspices of a professor of social geography with with interests in, among other things, intersectionality and social inequality, and funded by the UK taxpayer through the Economic and Social Research Council, this report (full version here) and its recommendations are interesting to say the least.
We are told that surveys have shown that Islamophobia is everywhere north of the Tweed, that large proportions of the Scottish population observe it, that they believe that it is getting worse, and that they see the media as spreading it. Admittedly Islamophobia is not actually defined in the document (indeed one of its recommendations is that the Scottish government should come up with a semi-official definition). Nor are we told what was said about it to those who answered the questionnaires. This matters. According to a capacious definition of Islamophobia provided five years ago by the Westminster APPG on British Muslims (and which the report refers to), Islamophobia is a broad church indeed. It can, it seems, range from calling for Muslims to be murdered, to things many would regard as at least legitimate expressions of opinion: suggesting that a push by Palestinians to self-determination amounts to terrorism, or that Muslims often feel more loyalty to the Ummah than their own government, or alleging paedophilia against Mohammed. Unfortunately we simply don’t know what kind of Islamophobia was being talked about here, so it’s a bit difficult to see what the atmosphere in Glasgow (or Golspie, which may well be different) really is.
If the extent and type of Islamophobia observed in Scotland by those prepared to answer questionnaires are a tad vague, the prescriptions for dealing with it are a good deal more precise. They are also a good deal more worrying, reflecting as they do the remarkably bossy nature of the Scots establishment. (Think in the past its draconian hate crime legislation, its rules requiring untamperable smoke detectors to be fitted in private homes whether the owners want them or not, and its failed attempt to assign a state functionary called a named person to every Scots child that might want to second-guess the authority of its parents.)
Every teacher and university teacher in Scotland, for example, should have to face regular and compulsory anti-Islamophobia training, presumably from a state-approved source (whether this would have to mention Islam, or whether it could be folded in to training on, say, antisemitism or anti-Catholic feeling we are not told). So too with, apparently, all police officers – as if they did not have enough to do – and every local authority officer. Every educational institution would have to create ‘safe spaces’ for discussion (i.e. presumably places where argument about the appropriateness of Islam would not be allowed). Schools would have to have dress codes ‘sensitive to the needs of Muslims’, presumably thus being required to welcome insistence on niqabs or burqas even if these might, by making girls to all intents and purposes invisible, make communication difficult and cross-religious socialising almost impossible.
And that is without the proposals on the media, which verge on the dystopian. A ‘key priority area’, deserving ‘immediate attention’, is a requirement that every single journalist working in Scotland should be required by their employer to ‘participate in regular and compulsory training on the role that the media play in fostering Islamophobia’.
We’re not told what should happen to journalists who refuse, or who simply disagree, or even think that newspapers and broadcasters should in the interests of viewpoint diversity run the odd pungent piece about Islam and leave readers to make up their own mind. The implication, however, seems clear: Scotland would be better off without them. That this is indeed envisaged is brought out in the next recommendation: editors must be required (yes, required, apparently by regulators like IPSO) ‘to consult regularly with the Muslim community in order to promote understanding and prevent misrepresentation’.
One wonders in what other jurisdictions newspapers, magazines and other outlets (including presumably, CapX) could be seriously expected by government to liaise with particular interest groups and temper what they write to make sure that no group or activist organisation takes offence at any article they run. If this comes to pass, Hamish and Aileen will certainly have a harmonious news and current affairs diet – almost as harmonious as they’d get in such bastions of press freedom as Tehran or Pyongyang.
It’s hard to know where to start with this well-intentioned piece of illiberal nonsense – which, incidentally, was immediately welcomed with whoops of joy by representative organisation turned identitarian pressure-group the Muslim Council of Britain. It will slowly but surely destroy Scottish education, once a beacon of enlightenment, with its requirement for all educators to undergo regular training from government-approved instructors emphasising the need to see everything through the lens of ubiquitous Islamophobia.
Will it reduce sectarianism and religious distrust with its emphasis on the separateness of Islam and the need to accommodate it? It might, but one very much doubts it. Take an analogy. Today meetings of the Old Firm Rangers and Celtic have their tensions: but much of the animosity has, thankfully, gone. Would it have been the same if an earlier Scottish government had earnestly gone about commissioning reports that Catholics were an oppressed community, that Catholicophobia was rampant from Elgin to Edinburgh, that stringent laws had to be passed to deal with it, and that Protestant news media had to be specially careful to consult Catholic leaders before publishing items that might be offensive? Counterfactual history can be difficult: but I wouldn’t care to bet on it.
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