Documentary representations of British and European Muslim women. Essay review

Follow-up to ‘Same Difference’ examines images of Muslims in photography and television

Submitted by Tom Jennings on February 20, 2008

Breaking Cover

In ‘Same Difference?’ (1) I discussed recent cinematic treatments of Western Muslim lives in terms of the interaction of racism and Islamophobia with conflicts around class, generation, and gender. This essay follows some of the implications in investigating the significance of the hijab (headscarf), which is the focus of considerable current attention. Work by artists related to the veil and identity is briefly summarised in terms of how European Muslim women see and present themselves, and two recent photographic exhibitions tackling this subject are described. However, Muslim women’s appearance is a site of intense official interest too. Earlier this year Shabina Begum (aged 16) of Luton overturned the attempt by Denbigh High (2) to prevent her from wearing the hijab at school. Her principled campaign set a UK legal precedent, but circumstances are less favourable in France, where right-wing racism has made considerable inroads into local government and national guidelines seeking to outlaw the veil conjoin cultural prejudice with secularism and feminism. A recent BBC documentary on the ban’s implementation shows the varying meanings invested by young women in these cultural symbols under threat. The concluding section finally seeks to draw together all of the strands from ‘Same Difference?’ and the present work, indicating how the social and political processes at work should be familiar to us all, even if the specifics of their impact upon the experiences of European Muslims are as deep, diverse and distinctive as the influence of religion – or any other cultural tradition – always is.

Veiled Assertions

The traditions and practices of veiling are widely divergent across the Muslim world (3) thanks to variations in religious interpretation, political and economic conditions and the geographical migration of populations leading to degrees of adjustment and assimilation into host societies (4). In European countries in particular, “numerous and often contradictory intersecting points of cultural identification” (5) result. However, the ‘ethnicity’ discourse which has overlain old-fashioned biological racism yields new British stereotypes of ‘alien’ Islam, whereby “groups previously known by national or regional origin … are now all seen as part of a single Muslim community. This categorisation of minority communities in primarily religious terms assumes them to be internally unified, homogeneous unities with no class or gender differences or conflicts” (6). The underlying complexity is epitomised by several British-based women artists from Muslim backgrounds who have explored the meanings of the veil, including Jananne Al-Ani (Iraqi/Irish descent), Zenib Sedira (Algerian-French) and Sabhera Bham (British-Indian).

To Fran Lloyd, “the Arab woman’s body is central to Orientalist imagery as the site of this extreme difference or otherness: of eroticism combined with passivity and anonymity, and as a sign of the unknown to be conquered” (7). Zenib Sedira’s photography and video installations treat “the veil as external sign of difference, social positioning, gender, desire and exclusion/inclusion … a complex symbol that carries a multiplicity of frequently shifting and often contradictory meanings in differing postcolonial geographies” (8). Sabera Bham sees the veil as central to images of Muslim women in mainstream media – the most visible aspect which differentiates them from others. Her Concealed Visions – Veiled Sisters (1998) projected portraits of veiled women onto suspended transparent fabric, with a soundtrack of British women voicing how the veil expresses their modesty, dignity and self-respect (9).

The richness of such work reveals the range of attitudes amongst Muslim women; while many not wearing the veil appreciate that others incorporate it symbolically in conceiving personal identity. Veiling “is a specific practice of situating the body within the prevailing exigencies of power; so is unveiling … Not-to-veil is also another way of turning flesh into a particular type of body” (10), so that choices around the veil do not necessarily or directly concern either religion or oppression. These complexities should be kept in mind in considering the exhibitions described below concerning representations of British Muslim women. Though mostly of Pakistani descent, their portrayals amply demonstrate as wide a range of concerns and perceptions in relation to appearance, conduct, self and society as would be found among women in the UK of any cultural background.

1. Self Presentation

Like Sabhera Bham’s installation cited above, Clement Cooper’s Sisters (11) combined photography with testifying voices. This exhibition and book intended to give a positive public representation of young UK Muslim women (12), and had the backing of teachers and imams in state and Islamic colleges, schools and mosques in Preston, Oldham, Manchester and Birmingham, as well as the enthusiastic participation of those who volunteered in groups to take part. After extensive consultation with their parents, subjects were asked to wear their ‘best’ or favourite scarves (13), and pictures were shot between lessons in normal school sites. Locations and props were used according to aesthetics and convenience; other members of the school going about their business were present along with chaperones; and the subjects decided on their stance and gaze. The best images technically of each were shortlisted, and those used decided jointly with the subjects – the final selection representing the diversity of styles and postures adopted by the girls.

For the sound recordings, they were asked to speak about whatever they felt comfortable with in terms of their lives or beliefs as Muslims; given a list of suggested themes (including religion, the hijab, 9/11, prejudice experienced); and taboo themes such as divorce and sexuality were tacitly avoided to maintain comfort levels. The editing reduced repetition while representing the range of opinions expressed, keeping some of the naïveté and embarrassed laughter but doing justice to the subjects’ efforts to present themselves publicly (14). Most explicitly characterised themselves primarily as part of family and social networks or communities – those from Islamic schools being more self-confident about their position within Muslim traditions and religion; while state school students preferred to describe how they personally and collectively behaved and were treated as Muslims.

Given the briefing’s emphasis on women’s clothing and ‘Muslim’ ideas and behaviour, many of the statements discussed feminine roles and morality and women’s freedoms and status in Islam. However, it is noticeable that a very wide spectrum of attitudes was audible and visible, whether or not any pressure was felt from authority figures which may have impacted on what the girls said and did. In the pictures the gaze is to camera more often than averted, and the facial expressions and poses struck indicated feelings of being strong, sassy, secure, coy, defiant, vulnerable, knowing, proud, happy or challenging. Tones of voice included the forthright, hesitant, authoritative or thoughtful in criticising, justifying, demystifying, moralising, questioning, declaiming, complaining and explaining. Certainly, interpretations of domesticated, docile downpression on the part of these modern European young women would be hard to sustain irrespective of the degree of their piety, traditional observance of veiling, or modesty of expression.

2. Self Expression

Of course, the public collective identity of the Sisters was predetermined as Muslim and symbolised by the veil. Though necessary for the project’s purposes, this hindered the expression of other dimensions in the exploration of selfhood which might resonate with the experiences of viewers in different ways. The NMPFT exhibition After Cameron (15) also contains portrayals of a group of British Muslim women. These self-portraits were produced collectively but with no prescribed attention paid to the ethnic or cultural background of the subjects, and therefore no ‘burden of representation’ was placed upon them. With a stress on private and personal development rather than public presence, this provides an interesting contrast.

After Cameron was intended to introduce the work of Julia Margaret Cameron – a pioneering Victorian photographer belonging to a colonial family in India and therefore constrained by a variety of technological and social restrictions – to a wider audience. In a series of workshops with artist Chris Madge, the subjects experimented with nineteenth century pinhole camera and contemporary digital methods, and the corresponding old and new processing and developing techniques were combined culminating in the final argyrotype prints. This was decisively not ‘instant’ photography. Time needed to be taken for trial and error, and therefore for reflection. And while the digital camera captures moments, its autofocus technology renders the point of focus uncertain; whereas the pinhole camera’s longer exposure time gives flexibility in discovering possibilities for staging, movement and definition.

Judging by the results, the Bradford group were just as self-confident as the Sisters, evidenced in their sophisticated deployment of concepts and tropes of Western and Eastern beauty, familiarity with conventions of fashion photography, the self-consciousness of display and careful manipulation and playing with Asian and European clothing as well as other culturally iconic props. The expressions, postures and gestures tend towards introspection, with permutations of sadness, poignancy, yearning, amusement and joy as well as modesty, seriousness and stillness – but the pictures are also dynamic and dialogic, with double images and blurring from movement, and interaction between subjects as well as implied communication with viewers. The freedom to vary framing, lighting and camera angles further allowed the depth and complexity of character and mood to be conveyed.

The final ensemble of images captures the richness and provisionality of both personal identity and artistic endeavour as social processes rather than purely individual enterprises. Several of the group had even decided not to allow their pictures into the public domain (due to concerns about possible unauthorised use); though they participated just as fully as the others in the project. After Cameron emphasised the cultivation of a cohesive group environment to help overcome inhibitions as well as fostering shared decision-making. Rigid boundaries of both authorship and selfhood were thus comprehensively questioned in the portraits, which were selected for exhibition to represent a record of the learning and achievements of the group as well as the self-images of its members – who in the event largely relinquished the veil as a marker of identity while generally also choosing to avert their gaze.

3. Self Defence

The putative ‘mystery’ of Muslim women is enhanced by traditional practices of modesty only to those with no direct experience (whether through choice or circumstance). On the other hand, the postmodern Western obsession with superficial displays of surface appearance leads to suspicion towards any kind of hidden depths which have the capacity to expose it as the narcissistically trivial but commodifiable perversity it is. Either way, it should be apparent from the work described above that the characterisation of Muslim women as undifferentiated victims of their culture is a travesty, even if that doesn’t hinder its utility in the pursuit of sundry vested interests. These reproduce the generally regressive and racist tendencies of nationalism and other exclusionary discourses corrosively festering away in the body politic, but also often intersect with more urgent contemporary ramifications for everyday lives when powerful institutions weigh in. The Headmaster and the Headscarves details how young women are being forced right now to deal with the practical consequences of institutional definitions of their difference (16).

In a state secondary school in Paris, headmaster Raymond Scieux translated the French government’s outlawing of ‘religious symbols’ by insisting on the visibility of his female pupils’ ears and foreheads – his primary rationale being that his staff shouldn’t have to be aware of their religion. The teachers themselves justified the ban on the veil in quasi-feminist terms of the girls’ welfare (rather than their own) – including protecting them from religious ‘oppression’ by their families and, bizarrely, the importance of encouraging teenage sexual expression. Such clumsy rationales satisfied neither their more thoughtful colleagues nor the students featured in the documentary. Many of their parents had already urged them to relinquish their veils for the sake of education, and (like the Sisters), they recognised the sexualisation of youth to be toxic. They may have held sharply diverging perspectives on the status of ‘Western’ cultural patterns in their daily lives, and most were not particularly devout, but Muslim customs were felt as integral to their personal identities which were now under attack.

In the meetings and discussions shown in the film, those supporting the government guidelines systematically refused to listen to or take into account the girls’ feelings, opinions and wishes, or even to engage in real debate. Facing such patronising intransigence, the prospect of expulsion just before their final exams understandably tinged the atmosphere among the girls and their supporters with a mixture of indignance, misery and fatalism (17). However, some began to crystallise their intelligence and integrity into increasing determination and militancy as they grappled with strategies of minimum compromise to maintain self-respect. In this they drew on various social and cultural influences – including the history and steadfastness of parental generations, the self-respect inherent in Islam, pragmatic experience at school so far and an immersion in secular youth culture (such as in appropriating the bandana from hip hop style). Responding to an invidious predicament, their imaginative questioning of the wider social and political implications led to almost palpable intellectual, cultural and spiritual maturation – completely contradicting their erstwhile educational protectors, whose rhetorical claims of benevolence disrespectfully denied them any such capacity (18).

Rhetorics of Respect and Respectability

Liberal reformist writers and activists within Islam explain the resistance to change in its traditionalist patriarchal models by analysing the Qur’an and pre- and post-Islamic legislation, customs and scholarship (19), emphasising the historical, cultural and political conditions influencing the interpretation of scripture, the development of Shari’a law, and applications in specific circumstances. Humanist rationalism is apparently also rapidly gaining ground among intellectuals and the political classes in many important Islamic countries (20). However, a conspicuous failure to speak to poor and young Muslims offers hardline political Islam the chance to thrive – not just in the war zones of Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Europe, as well as in Islamic countries such as Iran where recent presidential elections were won through a tactical appeal to the economic desperation of the poor and against ‘corrupt’ urban middle class interests.

Surveys of patterns of beliefs and behaviour within and between Muslim communities and societies throughout the world (21) show that the most significant variables may not relate directly to religion either. The points of tension producing intellectual challenge, deliberate struggle or subversive response to necessity mean that women are often active against patriarchal restriction in ways corresponding to neither modernist, traditionalist or fundamentalist Islamist prescriptions nor Western liberal or feminist presumptions. So, despite this wide spectrum of lived practice (especially when harsh economic conditions dictate), Chandra Mohanty’s examination of the rhetoric of women’s solidarity shows that “British Asian cultures, in which a wide range of different types of people are living lives in which they are active agents not just passive victims, become reduced to monolithic, stereotyped and ethnocized categories such as the ‘Asian community’ … characterised by its victim status – victim often not only of white racism but of a set of so-called traditional norms and values” (22). Such patronisation is typically compounded with moral panics about ‘barbaric’ customs such as honour killing and female circumcision irrespective of their real prevalence.

When hyperbolized in this way, the general haste to condemn women’s subordination as blanket oppression carries the corollary that any apparent complicity – such as conformity to tradition – may be dismissed as the docility of the slave. The corresponding trivialisation of efforts from within Muslim communities to improve conditions for women then matches the general arrogance of Western discourses in relation to those of ‘inferior’ peoples. It also conveniently overlooks the cultural specifics of tradition. In the defensive conditions of historical domination, tradition centrally concerns ‘proper’ femininity – which “is always over-layered with other categorizations such as class and race. Historically … working-class women (Black and White) … were precisely what femininity was not. However, to claim respectability, disavowal of the sexual is necessary and constructions, displays and performances of feminine appearance and conduct are seen as necessary […] masquerades [which are] tactical deployments of forms of femininity which protected their investments and gained cultural approval and validation” (23).

Not surprisingly then, Britain’s South Asian communities are, according to fictional depictions, riddled with “forms of oppression that relate to caste, class and religion as well as the positive aspects of family and community … Women and girls, in particular, are subject to irreconcilable contradictions … What is called for is a life of negotiation that leads to a redefinition of boundaries” (24). This continual negotiation to prove worth contrasts pressures towards conformity from within one’s family, wider kinship networks and community with those from unofficial and official racism. None of this can be understood in simplistic terms of static culture, ethnic and race relations or patriarchy – which fix identity in mass, categorical differences clamouring to be recognised. And for those lacking the economic or cultural status needed “to participate in recognition politics … ethical struggles often occur around use- rather than exchange-values … Communities [form themselves through] talk of fairness and kindness that glues people together and is based on values of care rather than exchange.” (25). This type of social orientation resists the “tyranny of identity politics” (26), whether imposed by grass-roots essentialism, institutional discourse or governmental ‘political correctness’.

As with the Bradford groups defending those criminalised after the 2001 riots, the campaign in France against the school headscarves ban prominently features working class Muslim women organising from their own perspective in ways not reducible to essentialised separable identities – even if conservative ‘community leaders’, the state, academics, media and marketers share that agenda to monopolise tradition, ‘law and order’, knowledge, public opinion, and profit respectively. Likewise, the 1989 demonstrations and Satanic Verses ‘book-burning’ rituals by British Muslims in Bradford and elsewhere represented “spontaneous working class anger and hurt pride” (27) akin to that seen also among alienated Black and white inner-city youth throughout the 1970s and 80s. Whenever material deprivation is dismissed as the fault of the poor, it may become a matter of survival to demand respect in response to its absence. Whether white, Black or Asian, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about these processes – even if this is conveniently forgotten by the complacently respectable. Meanwhile the status as white of ‘underclass’ working class people on sink estates “is ‘tainted’ through their multi-ethnic residence, their poverty and their roots in a ‘black’ market economy” (28) along with their thoroughly dangerous conduct and dirty sexuality – echoing previous class-based and colonial discourses of the urban poor, immigrants and racial others used to reinforce distinctions between ‘rough’ and ‘respectable’ classes, castes or strata.

From the range of attitudes, preoccupations and expressions in Sisters, After Cameron and The Headmaster and the Headscarves, religious traditions, beliefs and norms are obviously interwoven with manifold other dimensions of contemporary European Muslim women’s experiences. Similarly, religious precepts and practices may be mobilised for a range of purposes, and are often neither the problem nor the solution nor even the most salient factors in striving for a tolerable life. Acting collectively to maintain and reproduce self, family and community means continually adjusting to conflicting demands from a panoply of social, discursive and official institutions. These claim uniformity, consistency and legitimacy on the grounds of nation, morality and order, yet are riven by and indeed formed from contradictory historical, political and economic interests. Consequently, codes of respectability which are deeply ambiguous in terms of their race, gender and class connotations collide and overlap within Western societies – among people of all secular and spiritual faiths coping with the consequences of consumerism, selfish individualism and contempt for others.

Meanwhile the hapless hysterical hypocrisy of power pretends it can legislate away all complexity and antagonism while encouraging the intensification of inequality. Such attempts are bound to fail; but the failure itself serves both corporate agendas and the divinely-ordained control freak fantasies concerning moral enforcement and punishment indulged in by New Labour, Islamic fascism and US evangelical support for neoconservative neofeudalism. Resistance of any kind to the relentless march of managed misery is defined as bad for business, inherently dangerous, and evil to boot. Deliberately soliciting knee-jerk public reactions which draw on emotional reserves left over from centuries-old colonial and class stratification, the state legitimises unlimited measures to preempt change. And as with anti-social conduct (including wearing headscarves or hoodies); so too for thought-crime and terror. As Paul Gilroy argues, in the UK:

“outlawing incitement to religious hatred … was just a convenient governmental gambit for separating ‘good’ from ‘bad’ Muslims … Bolting official religious sensitivity on to the apparatuses of ‘antiracism’ only helps to reproduce exactly the sort of closed and stratified communities that might otherwise be withering away. Processes, identities and feelings that are fluid, complex and internally differentiated become fixed, naturalised and spiritualised …

“Transposing large cultural, political and economic problems into the language of faith and religion is a counterproductive oversimplification recycling the ‘clash of civilizations’ idea … It is only racism that holds all British Muslims responsible for the wrongs perpetrated in the name of their faith by a tiny minority” (29).

The heavy-handed and misconceived methods of the rule of law applied to alien civilisations and yob cultures alike run the gamut from surveillance, profiling and spurious and malicious ‘intelligence’ to peremptory discipline and restrictions on movement and eligibility for work, welfare and services – because on prejudicial examination their targets perpetually fall short of fully human (or British) status deserving respect for life and self-organisation. Appreciating – rather than suppressing, denying and projecting – the inevitable shades of sameness and difference within and between us is therefore no mere aesthetic preference for respectably cultured cosmopolitans. Breaking the cover of monolithic universal prescription by understanding, accepting and building from the implications is instead a precondition for any liberatory politics (30).


1. Variant 23, pp.28-31, Summer 2005.
2. also, as it happens, my old school.
3. Camillia Fawzi El-Solh & Judy Mabro, ‘The Ubiquitous Veil’, pp.7-12 in ‘Introduction: Islam and Muslim Women’, Muslim Women’s Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality, Berg, 1994, pp.1-32.
4. where, “the hybridity generated by diaspora is not just with the ‘host’ nation but among diasporas themselves … [from] the historical and continuing interactions between different diasporas, and the increasing frequency with which individuals may inhabit various successive diasporas in the course of a single lifetime” (Nicholas Mitzoeff, Diaspora and Visual Culture, Routledge, 1999, p.3-4.
5. Fran Lloyd, ‘Arab Women Artists: Issues of Representation and Gender in Contemporary British Visual Culture’, Visual Culture in Britain, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2001, p.5.
6. Nira Yuval-Davis, ‘Fundamentalism, Multiculturalism and Women in Britain’, in James Donald & Ali Rattansi (eds.) Race, Culture and Difference, Sage, 1992, p.263.
7. Lloyd, p.13 (see note 5). For various historical reasons, Arab women may have suffered such perceptions in especially acute form; but a similar syndrome could surely be detected applying to Muslim (or indeed, Asian) women in general.
8. Lloyd, p.6. So, Silent Witness (1995) has a row of large disembodied but actively moving pairs of eyes complicating questions of agency, activity, passivity and modesty, whereas Don’t Do To Her What You Did To Me (1996) has large photographs of “the artist veiling and unveiling herself … The averted gaze of the artist and the veil suggest an image of subjugation, but … the scarf (which was made by Sedira) is a patchwork of photographs of an unveiled female with her hair down (the artist’s sister)” (p.8). Silent Sight (Self-Portrait) (1999) has a triptych of the artist wearing full-length white veil, recalling Catholic and Islamic symbolism blending in her upbringing in Paris.
9. “I wanted to create alternative images of the veil, images that would challenge mainstream conceptions and allow the veil wearers to be able to express themselves”: Sabera Bham, quoted in Paul O’Kane, ‘Review of Photographic Installation, Concealed Visions – Veiled Sisters, by Sabera Bham’, Third Text, Vol. 43, No. 2, 1998, pp. 101-3.
10. Meyda Yegenoglu, Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p.115. Note that the Qu’ran does not mention the veil; merely exhorting believers to avoid repeated eye contact with members of the opposite sex.
11. Sisters: A Celebration of British Female Muslim Identity, by Clement Cooper, © KHADiJA Productions, Manchester, 2004 (distributed by Cornerhouse Publications: see, includes portraits and statements of women from Oldham, Manchester, Preston and Birmingham, including: Aisha Saleem, Ambia Khatun, Ayah Basil Hatahet, Bushra Iqbal, Danya Al-Astewani, Fatima Abdul, Fatima Begum, Hazera Afia Khatun, Henna Jameel (pictured), Johura Begum, Mariam Ghaddah, Meyrish Nasreem (pictured), Nipa Begum (pictured), Rebeka Akhtar, Rebeka Khantun, Romana Sunam, Shahina Khatun, Sobia Bibi and sisters (pictured), Sonia Ahmed and Tasneem Aiar. Sisters exhibited at The Gallery Oldham in 2004-2005 and is now touring internationally. Clement Cooper’s previous work includes Presence, looking at life within the African-Caribbean communities of Moss Side and Longsight, Manchester, and Deep: People of Mixed Race, on the experiences of people in Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester and Bristol. A current UK-wide project entitled Brothers, under the auspices of Autograph: the Association of Black Photographers, will produce portraits of British Muslim men.
12. “They were quite happy to speak about their faith and have their pictures taken. Even the imams went out of their way to help me. I found Muslim women to be intelligent. They were aware of who they were and felt strongly about their beliefs. They had great respect for themselves and respect for others. What I found most amazing was that an eight-year-old girl wearing the hijab knew far more about herself and who she was than her much older white counterparts” (Clement Cooper, interviewed in ‘Beauty and the Faith: Girls and their Hijabs’, Asian News, 17th December, 2004).
13. In Islamic schools white hijabs were school uniform; dark colours being favoured in state schools. Veil material varied from simple, high-quality cloth to more decorative designs, sometimes prominently featuring fashion brand names (itself a subject of intense discussion). Incidentally, one of the schoolgirls forged her parent’s signature for permission to take part, leading to her portrait being temporarily withdrawn. General information regarding the project was provided by Clement Cooper (personal communication, July 2005).
14. From their day-to-day chat many of the girls were also mad about football (though not other sports) and various other ‘Western’ pursuits; some also routinely discussed ‘boyfriends’. In other words, many themes commonplace among British teenage girls were keenly addressed – though only one contributor mentioned leisure pursuits and enjoyment during recording, countering perceptions that being Muslim was boring and serious.
15. After Cameron, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (©), Bradford, 2004 (in association with Bradford Youth Service), including portraits by Billy Ayub, Sylina Sabir, Afiya Hussain, Aaisha Hussain, Salhia Ahmed, Salma Ahmed, Mahmoona Khan and Yasmeen Kosar, working with Chris Madge (see: Further information concerning this project was gained from Chris Madge (personal communication, May 2005).
16. The Headmaster and the Headscarves, dir. Elizabeth C. Jones, screened on BBC2, 29th March 2005, and is set in the Lycée Eugene Delacroix in Drancy, northeast Paris. Note that the history and contemporary repercussions of French colonialism in Africa are rather different from those of the British Empire in Asia (the hijab itself being highly significant in the Algerian independence campaign). However, the Muslim Arab and African presence in France is as firmly established as the South Asian communities are in the UK, with fluctuating patterns of integration and autonomy, tradition and cultural crossover sufficiently parallel in the two countries to merit consideration together – as are the contours and stereotypes of racism and Islamophobia and very substantial levels of deprivation and disaffection.
17. From working class families and poor neighbourhoods, and considering the far more intense degree of institutional racism faced in France even than in Britain, they were keenly aware that their prospects were already highly uncertain. Since the programme was made, school expulsions of French girls refusing to remove their veils have started to accelerate, and an organised campaign against the ban is gaining wide support. Meanwhile hijab bans are planned or are already law in several other European countries, including Germany, Spain and Italy.
18. whereas submitting meekly would represent the effective accomplishment of the repression their communities are accused of. For some responses from young UK Muslim women to The Headmaster and the Headscarves, see: – including comments that approximate nationalistic pride in asserting that it will never get that bad here. Let’s hope they’re right (in the prognosis, if not the diagnosis).
19. see, for example, Asghar Ali Engineer, The Rights of Women in Islam (2nd ed.), New Dawn Press, 2004.
20. such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Morocco, see: Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Islam: the Tide of Change’, New Statesman, 8th August, 2005.
21. for example. Fawzi El-Solh & Mabro (see note 2).
22. because “the Western gaze, including the Western feminist gaze, tends to construct Third World ‘otherness’ in ways that deny the differences and specificity of other cultures”: Chandra T. Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Duke University Press, 2003; cited in Chris Weedon, Identity and Culture: Narratives of Difference and Belonging, Open University Press, 2003, p.114.
23. Beverley Skeggs, Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable, Sage, 1997, p.115. See also: Floya Anthias, ‘Race and Class Revisited: Conceptualising Race and Racism’, Sociological Review, Vol. 38, 1990, pp.19-42; Heidi Mirza (ed.), Black British Feminism: A Reader, Routledge, 1997; and Tracey Reynolds, ‘Black Women and Social-Class Identity’, in: Sally R. Munt (ed.) Cultural Studies and the Working Class: Subject to Change, Cassell, 2000.
24. Weedon, p.114 (see note 22). The material discussed in ‘Same Difference?’ (see note 1) bears out such conclusions.
25. Beverley Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture, Open University Press, 2004, p.185, who further stresses that “The significance of loyalty and honour has also been well documented in studies of working-class life”. And: “While recognition politics becomes the ground for the middle classes to regroup their interests and investments, attempting to gain the moral and national high ground, other groups shape their ethics differently …
“This is the sort of ethics … [referring to] that which cannot be used, that which has real integrity; something quite rare in an exchange-value Western world. And it is the rarity of integrity that makes it in such demand, for it is one of the cultural practices which is difficult for the accumulative self to access, the prosthetic self to play with, or the omnivore to taste. Authenticity and integrity are ethical qualities that cannot be easily exchanged; they may be one aspect of cultural capital that cannot be harnessed by those intent on increasing their value at the expense of others” (p.186).
26. A. Sivanandan, ‘Fighting Our Fundamentalisms’ [interview with Campaign Against Racism and Fascism], Race & Class, Vol. 36, No. 3, 1995, p.80, who explains that identity politics makes it “impossible to examine issues objectively. Your loyalty is already defined by who you are and, therefore, the side you take is already defined, and there is no point in discussing other views on the subject. The debate is foreclosed before it has begun”.
27. Tariq Modood, ‘British Asian Muslims and the Rushdie Affair’, in James Donald & Ali Rattansi (eds.) Race, Culture and Difference, Sage, 1992, p.261. Here the trigger for action concerned religious identity only in the sense that Christians would be similarly outraged if “pissing on the bible” was presented as a “theological argument” (p.269).
28. Anoop Nayak, Race, Place and Globalization: Youth Cultures in a Changing World, Berg, 2003, p.76. This study of attitudes among white working class youth in Newcastle upon Tyne revealed different levels and types of multicultural interaction, including defensive respectability and ‘classic’ white racism, the imitation or cultivation of elements of ‘ethnic’ style, and underclass groups whose space and circumstances were shared with Asians and who oscillated between virulent prejudice and practical intermixture. In my experience, all these (and more) are also manifest in R&B club nights here, in which local young men and women from Muslim backgrounds enthusiastically participate – though in other public arenas choosing far more restrained conduct.
29. ‘Race and Faith Post 7/7’ (correspondence with Herman Ouseley), The Guardian, 30th July, 2005.
30. Gilroy (see note 29) concludes: “It may be more important to ask what social, economic and cultural conditions can promote solidarity and mutuality across fluid cultural lines … cultivating a political outlook that does not counterpose solidarity and diversity so that more of one means less of the other”. See also Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? Routledge, 2004.

Essay review published in Variant, No. 24, September 2005.

For other essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see: