by Chris Floyd
This is my latest piece for Truthout.org.
For centuries in Britain, each sentence of death was accompanied by a strange ritual. Before handing down the verdict, the judge would first take a piece of black silk cloth and put it on his head. With this rather bizarre and ancient drapery covering his powdered wig â€“ itself a relic, a cultural fossil carried into modern times â€“ he would then render the prisoner into the hangman's care.
In such a guise, the black cloth once represented the full, dread measure of state power. Today, however, a cloth of similar size, shape and color â€“ worn across the faces of a small number of some of the most vulnerable members of British society â€“ has become a target of that same dread power, after Britain's high and mighty unleashed a sudden, thunderous sneak attack on the nation's Muslim minority, centering the campaign around the tabloid-ready symbol of the veil.
But although the carefully orchestrated furor over this seldom-seen scrap of material has been so ludicrously disproportionate that even the Blair-fawning New York Times cried foul in a recent editorial, the campaign â€“ and its disturbing implications â€“ go far beyond the issue of religious vestments. Indeed, the veil row is just a covering for what appears to be a deliberate, wide-ranging program of diversion and division, aimed at creating a scapegoat â€“ "strangers in our midst," "the enemy within" â€“ to bear the blame for the sins of the Blair government: the fear, repression, guilt, lies and rancor produced by the abomination in Iraq.
The anti-Muslim campaign is not merely rhetorical â€“ although the heated rhetoric from Tony Blair and many of his ministers has certainly been bad enough, giving a patina of respectability to more extremist viewpoints, now seen as a legitimate part of the "national debate. (Much as the button-pushing imbroglio over immigration in the United States has transformed fringe white-power advocates into respectable media figures, lauded by the likes of Lou Dobbs and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and welcomed in the halls of Congress.) No, Blair's Islamophobia-fest has bite with its bark: not only the on-going evisceration of civil liberties, which has fallen almost entirely on British Muslims, but new measures as well â€“ such as the Stasi-like plan to induce university professors and staff to spy on Muslim students and report all "suspicious" behavior to the security organs.