Martin Thomas' article on the veil (Solidarity 3/46) starts out well but he gets dragged down into a swamp of confusion in his attempt to defend the right for French girls to wear the veil at school.
Martin states that the new French law against the veil in schools is a "blunderbuss criminalisation of thousands of teenage girls who may make confused gestures of rebellion or are simply victims of family pressure " The second part of that sentence is only added to avoid Martin being accused of fantasising about a mass revolt of angry Muslim girls demanding the right to wear the veil. But it is clearly implied by Martin in the rest of his article that this is the exact fantasy he suffers from.
Martin goes on to tell these school girls that they should be "able to wear whatever strange garb you want when it does not interfere with education " This fantasy of the mass Muslim school girl revolt is an echo from across the bog of the "idiot anti-imperialist" British left.
Martin rightly says that the veil "represents and embodies women's oppression. It defines the woman or girl who wears it as the property of the men." How then can it not interfere with education? How can a girl covered from head to toe in a burkha take part in sport, swimming and not be marked out from all the other girls?
Martin tells us that in French schools girls have been told to remove the veil if it interferes with education. Does he support this ban? A ban policed school by school and case by case. If so why not support an equal policy across all schools? Why leave this issue to the vagaries of each school or teacher?
Martin, back in his fantasy world of militant Islamist school girls, assures us that it is only older girls that will be affected by the issue - yet the veil starts with a girl's first period.
Martin's fantasy rests on the strange case of two young French women of 16 and 18 who are in revolt against their Jewish atheist father, but how can this give us an accurate picture of the general situation? In most cases the veil is imposed on Muslim girls by their family, their "community", their fathers and brothers. Yes they may accept that being a possession is their lot in life, but it is not the result of a mass movement of militant Islamist school girls.
Martin says, "Criminalisation should be for definite anti-social acts ." He implies that the French are going to lock up these militant girls and throw away the key! Yet it is a ban on wearing the veil in school. Like many other aspects of compulsory education it does not allow children the freedom to avoid education or the institutions around education.
At least in France Muslim girls do take a full part in education and cannot be pulled out of sex education, or sport, unlike in the UK. The basic choice here is clear: either we support compulsory education and fight for it to be better, or we support freedom of choice for children not to go to school or avoid the bits they don't like. Is a compulsory school uniform in a state school the same as making veils illegal?
Even if we put this aside Martin defeats his own argument by saying that the law will mean thousands of Muslim girls being excluded from school. I support the enforcement of compulsory education but Martin wants us to believe the French state is criminalising his beloved militant Muslim girls but won't take any action against them just not going to school.
In one last attempt to find solid ground, Martin says the law is motivated by racism, driven by the French National Front. There is clearly some truth in this, yet the NF don't support the law. And while the LCR oppose it, LO are less clear and the mainstream left support it. This argument is the political echo of those who always want to say no when the ruling class say yes.
Of course socialists cannot champion the French law - for starters it leaves in place religious schools - but we should not join the idiot chorus against it either. They say yes, we say no, is not a guide to action.
Martin by now up to his neck in muddy confusion waves around searching for solid support - the law "strengthens the Islamists". He reassures us that a victory of the Islamists against the law would not lead to a "deluge". But Thomas is forced to admit that "If hijab-wearing becomes the norm, then the next step in the social chain of events is the withdrawal of Muslim girls from physical education, or even science classes, and non-wearers being stigmatised as 'indecent'."
Martin ignores the results of the British liberal, multi-cultural approach. That has taken us from Muslim girls being removed from sex education and sport to a brilliant new height of "tolerance" with the establishment of Muslim single sex schools funded by the state where "militant Muslim girls" have to wear the veil and know their place.
Mark Sandell, Oxford