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Concerning the enforcement of morals

[ by Charles Cameron -- enforcement of moral codes in the UK, US, Israel and KSA, unofficial and official, worsening, continuing and improving, quite the smörgåsbord ]
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Moral vigilantism appears to be on the rise in parts of London, according to this first-person piece by Jane Kelly, consulting editor of the Salisbury Review, which identifies itself as “seriously right” — ‘I feel like a stranger where I live’ [Telegraph, 29 January 2013]:

“When you go swimming, it’s much healthier to keep your whole body completely covered, you know.” The Muslim lady behind the counter in my local pharmacy has recently started giving me advice like this. It’s kindly meant and I’m always glad to hear her views because she is one of the few people in west London where I live who talks to me.

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More worryingly, I feel that public spaces are becoming contested. One food store has recently installed a sign banning alcohol on the premises. Fair enough. But it also says: “No alcohol allowed on the streets near this shop.” I am no fan of street drinking, and rowdy behaviour and loutish individuals are an aspect of modern British ”culture’’ I hate. But I feel uneasy that this shopkeeper wants to control the streets outside his shop. I asked him what he meant by his notice but he just smiled at me wistfully.

Perhaps he and his fellow Muslims want to turn the area into another Tower Hamlets, the east London borough where ”suggestive’’ advertising is banned and last year a woman was refused a job in a pharmacy because she wasn’t veiled.

On the other hand, maybe I should be grateful. At least in Acton there is just a sign in a shop. Since the start of the year there have been several reports from around London of a more aggressive approach. Television news footage last week showed incidents filmed on a mobile phone on a Saturday night, in the borough of Waltham Forest, of men shouting “This is a Muslim area” at white Britons.

The video commentary stated: “From women walking the street dressed like complete naked animals with no self-respect, to drunk people carrying alcohol, we try our best to capture and forbid it all.”

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It also appears to be present in parts of Brooklyn, according to Modesty in Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Is Enforced by Secret Squads, [New York Times, January 29, 2013]:

In the close-knit world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, community members know the modesty rules as well as Wall Street bankers who show up for work in a Brooks Brothers suit. Women wear long skirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses on the street; men do not wear Bermuda shorts in summer. Schools prescribe the color and thickness of girls’ stockings.

The rules are spoken and unspoken, enforced by social pressure but also, in ways that some find increasingly disturbing, by the modesty committees. Their power is evident in the fact that of the half dozen women’s clothing stores along Lee Avenue, only one features mannequins, and those are relatively shapeless, fully clothed torsos.

The groups have long been a part of daily life in the ultra-Orthodox communities that dot Brooklyn and other corners of the Jewish world. But they sprang into public view with the trial of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn, who last week was sentenced to 103 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing a young girl sent to him for counseling.

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The details were startling: a witness for Mr. Weberman’s defense, Baila Gluck, testified that masked men representing a modesty committee in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y ., 50 miles northwest of New Y ork City, broke into her bedroom about seven years ago and confiscated her cellphone.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, who prosecuted the Weberman case, has now received allegations that members of a modesty committee forced their way into a home in the borough, confiscating an iPad and computer equipment deemed inappropriate for Orthodox children, officials say.

[ ... ]

“They operate like the Mafia,” said Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

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And in Israel — from the same report, although perhaps more widely known? I’ve certainly seen mentions…

In Israel, there have been similar concerns. Though no modesty committee was overtly involved, there has been anger over ultra-Orthodox zealots who spit on and insulted an 8-year-old girl for walking to school through their neighborhood in a dress they considered immodest.

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Meanwhile, the Saudis seem to be decreasing the scope of their official equivalent, according to Saudi limits powers of the notorious religious police [Al Arabiya, 30 January 2013]:

Saudi Arabia has set new limitations on the powers of its notorious religious police, charged with ensuring compliance with Islamic morality but often accused of abuses, its chief said on Tuesday.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice “once had much expanded powers, but with the new system… some of these powers, such as interrogating suspects and pressing charges,” will be restricted to the police and public prosecution, Shaikh Abdul Latif Abdel Aziz Al Shaikh told AFP.

The religious police may still arrest those carrying out “flagrant offences such as harassing women, consuming alcohol and drugs, blackmail and the practice of witchcraft,” Shaikh said of the new law approved by the cabinet.

and:

Relatively moderate Al Shaikh, appointed last year, has raised hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in deeply conservative Islamic country.

Two weeks into his post, Al Shaikh banned volunteers from serving in the commission, which enforces the kingdom’s strict Islamic rules.

H/t John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia.

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All these articles are worth reading in full, and you’ll be enriched by reading them together, comparatively — food for thought!

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5 Responses to “Concerning the enforcement of morals”

  1. Alex Carlill Says:

    to my mind the London piece isn’t very credible – I live in Whitechapel, which is home to one of the biggest Muslim populations in the city, & I’ve never come across much of the behavior she alleges. the “Muslim patrol” incident happened here, but only 3 people were involved & they were immediately condemned by the local mosque – the biggest in London. I’ve never seen any signs forbidding the consumption of alcohol or come across any off-licenses that don’t sell it. finally it’s worth noting that as a recent report (http://www.ethnicity.ac.uk/census/869_CCSR_Bulletin_More_segregation_or_more_mixing_v7NW.pdf) found, ethnic segregation (at least in strictly demographic terms) is decreasing.

  2. Alex Carlill Says:

    the idea that immigrants, Muslims especially, are cutting themselves off from British culture is one that the right-wing media has been trying to push for over a decade now, presumably because it allows them to criticize non-white populations while denying racism.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Alex:
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    I try to keep a look-out for undercurrents — stories told as well as facts nailed down — so I’m somewhat concerned at such a narrative appearing in the Telegraph even if the ground realities don’t warrant it.  For one thing, stories of that kind can have easily an echo-chamber effect and become self-fulfilling.  
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    Having said that, your report from Whitechapel is very encouraging.  Thanks for posting…

  4. larrydunbar Says:

    ” I’ve never seen any signs forbidding the consumption of alcohol” 

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    If you haven’t, then it could be that you live on the other side of the wire between mosques, and so you’re not really the one to be commenting on this.

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    Perhaps you need to communicate more with your neighbors. 

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs from an interesting piece titled *‘Muslim Patrol’ as provocation strategy?* from David Ucko at Kings of War blog today:

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    QUOTE: Maybe the young men in the videos earnestly believed that they were helping to create ‘Muslim zones’ or maybe they just wanted to harass a few locals — but why videotape this effort and post it to Youtube? Now, many idiots post videos of their crimes online – why is something of an eternal mystery – but I suspect there may be something deeper at play here. There is little evidence to support this hypothesis, but is it possible that these videos were meant as the opening gambit of the age-old provocation strategy, a tried and tested insurgent method to polarize societies and gain popular support?

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    In its traditional context, the provocation strategy involves the use of violence by aspiring insurgents to goad state authorities into an overreaction. That overreaction adversely affects relevant populations (targeted because they are thought to sympathize with or shelter the likely perpetrators). Attacked by the state, this population becomes increasingly alienated and starts to look for alternate sources of protection, power and legitimacy. The insurgents then step in, with an empowering message whose anti-state tenor and call to action will now begin to resonate. :UNQUOTE

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    Source: http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2013/02/muslim-patrol-as-provocation-strategy/


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