The unthinking criticism of South Yorkshire Police

August 5, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in British Politics | 1 Comment

Depending on your point of view, it’s either an innovative approach to building community relations or proof of the Islamisation of our police force. You might’ve heard about the revelation that two sergeants and a community support officer spent a day accompanying a group of Muslim women around Sheffield city centre. All the women, including the white police officers, were dressed in Islamic costumes, including the burkha, jilbab, hijab and niqab.

Naturally, a lot of folks have flapped their jowls in fury: the bile-soaked secularists who squat in blog comments sections; the various ‘jihad watch’ websores who warn of ‘dhimmisation’; and the more ‘wholesome’ Christian People’s Alliance, whose response makes you suspect they wouldn’t have had a problem if only they’d all dressed as 12th century monks .

Even the more respectable sections of the blogosphere threw up some thrupenny critiques, with both James Forsyth & Shiraz Maher jumping on this 24 word quote from one of the officers who participated:

I have gained an appreciation and understanding of what Muslim females experience when they walk out in public in clothing appropriate to their beliefs.

To which Maher responded: “There are a very large number of Muslims – male and female – who do not believe that the burkha has any place in Islam. Indeed, many also reject the notion of the headscarf itself as being anything Islamic.” Forsyth added: “This statement could be read as South Yorkshire police implying that Muslim women who do not wear these clothes are not behaving appropriately.”

I’ll concede that both Maher and Forsyth are superfically correct. The sergeant’s statement was poorly worded – the consequence, perhaps, of not having had extensive media training or the luxury of being able to write blogs for a living. However, I suspect they’re smart enough to spot a bodged choice of words when they see one, and their refusal to give her the benefit of the doubt & instead play on the story’s supposed sharia symbolism is an example of commentary at its most unthinkingly critical.

Both the sergeant quoted in the piece and the management of South Yorkshire Police know that only some Muslim women wear these forms of dress, but they also know that Muslims make up around 5% of Sheffield’s population and that a portion of that number will wear items such as the burkha. Being police officers, they might also have noticed that you very rarely see burkha-clad women wandering around Sheffield city centre; not because there aren’t any, but because too many seem to prefer to stay in their own small communities.

Now, if you aspire for your city centre to be a place where people from all walks of life can meet and mingle, you might just wonder whether anything can be done to encourage these women to shop in Fargate rather than Firth Park, and whilst I’d be quite happy for burkhas to disappear completely, what’s far more important is for Muslims to wear what they like free from fear & suspicion.

South Yorkshire Police’s experiment was imperfect and partial and can’t be regarded as either a success or failure unless seen in the context of the city’s broader commmunity relations strategy. But the opportunity to experience, however briefly, what it’s like for these women – to understand why they sometimes feel unsafe, to notice how the rest of the city interacts with them – is something you can’t put a price on.

Just by going out of their way to understand other lives, the officers involved in this experiment have gained an experience for themselves and their police force which can encourage the understanding & cooperation they need to actually fight crime. And by sniffing with unthinking derision, Maher, Forsyth and all their anti-caliphate comrades have just demonstrated how little they have to offer.

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1 Comment »

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  1. This is a cracking post, well said


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