The British Media, the Veil and the Limits of Freedom

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

The media in Britain have presented ‘immigration’ as the most significant crisis facing the country; they consistently present migrants, asylum seekers, etc. as a burden on national resources, and increasingly, as a security threat. Muslims in particular have been targeted, and have been presented as an alien ‘other’ who refuse to ‘integrate’ into the British ‘way of life’, and indeed who threaten it. This paper argues that, in this framework, the veil has become an iconic symbol of cultural difference, a sign of the perceived failures of multiculturalism and the ‘problem’ of tolerance. The context that shapes the ‘debate’ on the veil is the neoliberal restructuring of the British economy and welfare state; the consequences of this restructuring and its impact on the quality of public services are explained in cultural terms by reference to the intrusion of an alien culture (Islam). In order to ‘protect’ British ‘culture’, the state relies on the anti-Muslim sentiments whipped up in the media to push through a rash of anti-terror legislation that not only discriminates against the Muslim population of Britain, but curtails the very freedoms that it purports to protect.

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