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Three hypotheticals and an actuality

October 15, 2010

Scene: A woman walks home from a football match with her team’s colours round her neck. Another woman, older, must be a fan of a different team, comes up to her. Yells at her. Slaps her. Scratches her. Eventually, rips the scarf off and throws it away.

Response: The second woman gets a fine and maybe a short prison term for assault. Other fans of the assaulter’s team distance themselves quickly. “Not all of us are like that.” The club might make an official statement. Pundits talk about the beautiful game, and lament that what should be a source of entertainment and shared celebration ends up in violence. The papers rush to condemn the whole thing, with probably a bit of class-shaming about Those People, They’re So Violent thrown in for good measure. Everyone is extremely clear that this is assault, this is a bad thing.


Scene: A woman walks down an Ulster street in a Union Jack T-shirt. Another woman comes up to her. Yells at her, slaps her, scratches her face. Rips the shirt. It’s violent. It’s nasty. The victim ends up leaving Ireland.

Response: The second woman gets a fine and maybe jail. The Secretary for Northern Ireland or somebody makes a statement. Probably the Republic government does as well. Maybe some church figures decry the business. There is discreet reference to the Troubles and the ongoing tension, but the emphasis is wholly on the point that whatever the history, this is still wrong. The papers practically boil over with accusatory headlines about “sectarian violence” (I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the word ‘sectarian’ outside of reports on the situation in NI.) The few people who go on about how either she had it coming (for being a Brit) or she had it coming (for dressing like that in that part of town) get shouted down as the extremists and victim-blamers they are. This is assault. This is wrong.


Scene: A European woman walks down the road in the United Arab Emirates wearing a crucifix. Another woman comes up to her, yells at her in a language she doesn’t understand, hits her, ends up ripping the crucifix off. The victim ends up leaving the country.

Response: Quite probably, the assaulter gets a fine and/or some other punishment: assault is illegal pretty much everywhere. However, even assuming that justice got done and the culprit was punished, I can’t even imagine what the tabloid response to this would look like.


Scene: A Muslim woman walks down the street in Paris with her face veiled. Another woman comes up to her. Yells at her, slaps her, scratches her, eventually rips the veil off. The victim ends up leaving France.

Response: This is assault. This is wrong. The assaulter is looking at a fine and maybe prison. And lo, the Daily Mail gives plenty of column inches (link goes to the Press Not Sorry takedown) to the culprit’s justification for why being “irritated” with someone’s dress constitutes grounds for assaulting them, and plenty of webspace to commenters pontificating on why the criminal ‘should be given a medal’ and so forth.

Note for the sake of completeness that this happened before the French ban on face-covering clothing (including, and quite probably aimed at, the niqab and burqa) came in. (And, in any case, a crime is still a crime whether or not the victim was themself a criminal. And the French sumptuary law is a horrible and repressive piece of legislation and should never have passed.)

It boggles me that anyone, anywhere, can’t grasp that assault remains assault no matter what you thought of the victim’s attire, or how offended you were by it. That people don’t grasp the hypocrisy shown by the contrast between the “OMG religious persecution!” furore when that BAE employee was asked not to wear a crucifix at work, and the gleeful welcoming of some other poor woman’s religious symbol being actually torn off.

I guess it’s only assault if the victim was one of Us. If the criminal is one of Us attacking one of Them, it’s practically a blow struck for free speech and liberty. (FYI: The last time I checked, the violent enforcement of kyriarchal norms was the opposite of free speech.) Or something.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2010 3:44 pm

    Fantastic post. I love the utter hypocrisy of the attacker, claiming she did it for the sake of the woman’s human rights. Clearly the best way to defend anyone’s rights is to assault them and violently take away their choice and autonomy!

    Incidentally, if you want to link to the Daily Mail or the other tabloids without boosting their advertising revenue, there’s a great site called istyosty, which provides cached versions of Mail articles minus the adverts.

  2. October 15, 2010 3:56 pm

    A truly excellent piece.

    People’s empathy seems to have been eroded by the constant negative press given to Muslims (and other groups) by the tabloids, to the point where they’re willing to condone physical violence against a person simply because of the clothes they’re wearing. It’s a deeply disturbing state of affairs.

  3. Paul Skinner permalink
    October 16, 2010 12:31 am

    @atomicspin I’m not convinced that’s cached. It looks more like it’s a proxy to me.

    @wickedday I’m almost amused at how you are shocked that there are racists in society and that the Daily Mail likes to aim their paper directly at them as a market.

    The less idiotic, bordering on racism* hogwash that I have to hear/read about the better. I find that by not reading the paper I generally succeed.

    I suppose I don’t really see the point in debunking a story like this when it’s pretty obvious that anyone looking for a debunking isn’t going to have read/be interested in the original story, and indeed that anyone who isn’t looking for the original story is going to have already come to the same conclusions as you by virtue of the fact that they’re not already at the Daily Mail website.

    I may be employing too much reductio ad absurdum though.

    *I suspect it’s technically not racist as it’s just giving “some peoples opinion” which allows them to get away with it. It is essentially flame bait on a grand scale.

  4. October 16, 2010 11:19 am

    Paul Skinner, a respectful disagreement. I think this kind of thing *should* be pointed out and debunked wherever we can. However often we’re repeating ourselves. Because the other side gets to spread their shite all over the place, don’t they? The Daily Mail parrots its own offensive views every day, working its readers up into violent rages. We need to keep it in perspective. Their side is not the only one. We can’t let them go unchallenged because what would that say about us?

    And you don’t read the paper in order to stay away from racism? Good for you. Try giving that advice to someone who deals with racism on a daily, personal basis. I think you’ll find that it doesn’t quite do the job.

    Also? Please tell me I didn’t just read that. Of course opinions can be racist, and publishing them in a moderated forum is a tacit condonation. Not even tacit, in the case of the Daily Mail.

  5. October 16, 2010 1:57 pm

    @Paul: basically what ukenagashi said. It’s easy to dismiss the amount and vehemence of bigotry when it’s not actually impacting your life, but it stacks up.

    If the bigots are the people who shout the loudest, they are the ones who will be listened to. That’s how it works. Silence gets us nowhere, at best, and at worst lets the government, or the Mail, or whoever, claim that the “silent majority” are on their side.

    Speaking out is one of the most important things anyone can do – both out of pure principle and because bigotry doesn’t usually need a justification – just a target. Today it’s Muslims. Tomorrow it could be you.

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