Last week I talked about Lauren Booth, half sister of Cherie Blair, wife of King Tony. But somehow I missed this little gem from 10 years ago.
Shabina Begum was a 16 year old student of Bangladeshi extraction, and in 2006 she took her school to the highest courts in the land to argue for the right to wear the jilbab, the formless bag that women in Saudi Arabia wear to demonstrate that they have no rights at all.
When the High Court rejected her case, frogmouth Cherie Blair (nee Booth) herself stepped in to represent Begum in the Court of Appeals. They won, in what Sharia Cherie described as "a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry."
It seems worth mentioning at this point that Begum is of Bangladeshi extraction and was born in the UK around 1990. The jilbab meanwhile was invented in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, loosely based on a specific Wahabi interpretation of the Qu'ran. Bangladesh is traditionally a relatively moderate Sunni Muslim country. The jilbab forms no part of it or Shabina Begum's traditions or identity. It's a potent symbol of the absolutist and insanely literal interpretation of the Qu'ran which pertains in Saudi Arabia and is behind much of the militant Islam which drives terrorism. I'm not a human rights lawyer but I would imagine Cherie must have known this before taking the case to the highest court in the land.
Quite aside from the absurdity of a high profile case in the House of Lords to enable her to defend her "modesty" this must have made for some interesting evenings at the Blair household, what with Tony then engaged in the height of the war on terror, and Cherie fighting for the right of a British Bangladeshi girl to dress like an Arabian fundamentalist.
To their great credit the school, Denbigh High School, to their eternal credit fought on to the House of Lords where Booth again represented Begum and finally lost, establishing the principle that the school dress code did indeed trump the right to dress like someone you wouldn't want to sit near on public transport.
There was something else a bit strange about this case though. Denbigh high school is in Luton, and at the time of the case it's pupils were some 80% Muslim, and 4 of the 6 governors of the school who fought so hard against this display of Islamic extremism, as represented by the wife of the then Prime Minister, were also Muslims.
The interesting character Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the organisation Muslim Parliament said that "This may be a victory for human rights but it is also a victory for fundamentalism." Siddiquie is something like the Muslim equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and strongly criticised the Iraq war in 2003, but is also a founding member of British Muslims for a Secular Democracy. He's a crackpot by any reasonable standards, but by the standards of modern British Muslims he's a hand wringing moderate.
In fact by the standards of Cherie Blair he is a wet. Clearly like her half-sister, only the full fat Wahabi lunacy fresh from Saudi Arabia is interesting and enriching enough for Cherie and her view of multicultural Britain.
It's a curious case for a leading human rights lawyer and a self-appointed first lady of President Blair to take up. And it adds to my suspicion that at the very heart of New Labour, and throughout our political establishment is deep seated wish to actually promote Islamic fundamentalism at the expense of our own culture. Even when the genuine "moderate Muslims" who they claim to support are dead set against it.
The explanation that this was driven by a sort of soppy liberalism taken to an extreme simply doesn't wash. Cherie Booth wasn't fighting a stuffy white establishment for the right of a ethnic minority to wear her colourful traditional garb and enrich us, she was fighting moderate Muslims for the right of a second generation Bangladeshi to wear the uniform of militant Wahabi Islam from Saudi Arabia. It is not tolerance or diversity it is wanton cultural suicide.