Deborah Orr: Islamic terrorism is a contradiction in terms, so it doesn't exist. Discuss

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The Independent Online

Next week I'm going to the cinema. Definitely. But this Thursday evening saw me sitting on a panel of five women in Whitechapel, and taking part in a "Dialogue With Islam" about whether the veil is "a mark of separation" or "a statement of identity". Quite how these two categories are mutually exclusive, I'm afraid, was not resolved during the debate. Neither was anything else.

The more I try to get to grips with this issue, the more puzzling I find it all. I learned during the course of some full and frank exchanges, though, that the veiling of women has got nothing whatsoever to do with female sexuality, protection from the gaze of strangers, or anything else at all. The reason why Muslim women adopt total face and body shrouding is because Allah tells them to. There is, apparently, no other explanation that is either relevant or necessary, whether you believe in Allah or you don't.

I learned too, more forcefully than I've heard it expressed before, that the idea that this "dress code" oppresses women is ridiculous. The reason why there has never been a concerted Muslim feminist movement (I'm told) is that Muslim women have always had all of the equalities that Western women are still struggling with the vile British patriarchy to achieve. Quite where this splendid state of affairs can be seen working in an actual society remains somewhat elusive though. Which is a shame, because I'd be off there like a shot if only I could locate the place.

Here though, Muslims are constantly and invariably demonised (the audience started jeering when I questioned this entirely negative view), it's all the Government's fault, everything, and since Islamic terrorism is a contradiction in terms, it doesn't exist and therefore can hardly be cited as an influence, rightly or wrongly, on the current woeful state of misunderstanding and distrust.

People never go on about Christian terrorists, apparently, which proves something - although I do vaguely remember the days when you only appeared to get two kinds of terrorist anyway - Catholic and Protestant. (In an unfortunate cultural echo, they wore black face coverings that showed only their eyes as well.) It was totally grim, of course, back in the days when any Irish person was viewed as a potential terrorist, and much injustice resulted from such assumptions.

I hate the British government's demands that the Muslim community should take on collective guilt for Islamic terror, and I do consider myself to have a great deal in common with the Muslim people I was discussing these matters with. I didn't support the attack on Afghanistan. I didn't support the war in Iraq. I think the "war on terror" and the "axis of evil" are stupid and divisive pieces of dumb propaganda. I'm troubled by the social exclusion of many Muslims, just as I am by that of other British minorities.

I agree with many of the criticism that the people in Mile End made of British society. But I'm seen by many of the people I spoke with on Thursday as Islamophobic, just because I have some criticisms of Islam - and indeed of revealed religion generally. That they seem entirely anti-Western, on the other hand, is it be honoured, respected and genially tolerated, if we are to prove ourselves as liberally democratic as we like to say we are. It's quite a trick - having to accept opposing values in order to be seen to uphold your own.

Turning up before a bunch of people who have nothing positive to say about Britain or its culture is depressing. I'm all for meeting people half way, and so are many British Muslims. But this audience, at least, appeared to want to hear nothing except a fulsome surrender to the idea that the West is always terrible and Islam is always best. No can do.

Diana's last hurrah

Dear old Di. I couldn't stand the girl when she was alive, but the longer she is dead, the more fond of her I become. I'm touched, most of all, by the way she has died so unexpectedly thoroughly. By now, had she battled on, we'd be up to our necks in adopted African babies, has-she-or-hasn't she Botox reports, and mother-son charity trips with the world's press trailing behind like herds of wildebeest.

Instead, Diana was such an open book when she was alive, with her leaky deals with the press and her constant campaign of personality projection, that the post-tragedy tsunami of revelation dried up with indecent haste. Sure, she can still make the headlines. But all the stories are so distasteful - butler's tattle, Hewitt embarrassments, Fayed accusations, and crash photographs flogged by people who knew her - that they just make you feel that it must have been rotten being her, hanging out with these tedious morons and depending on them so hugely.

All that's left is the elaborate but dull pretence that no one's quite sure yet how she may have come to her end, and the proposition that the uncovering of this tantalising fact must be a bloated public event. The poor woman died of not wearing a seat belt. The show's over, ladies and gents. Move it along now.

The wonderful world of Disney - but darker

I'm not sure why animal aid agencies are declaring themselves so " mystified" about the seal pup who turned up wandering along a country lane four miles from the sea. Maybe they secretly suspect it's a freak of nature, like the rains of frogs or fish that have been known to grace the weather systems of even these usually precipitatively predictable islands. Or maybe they imagine it might be a "silky", transmogrified from human form at an inconveniently landlocked time like the creatures of Scottish and Scandinavian myth.

The truth, I hope, is much more prosaic. This is just the time of year when people start panicking about Christmas presents, and it's pretty likely that some idiot grabbed in haste before remembering that seal puppies, just like the canine type, weren't just for Christmas but for life.

It's lovely though, I think, that there has been no suggestion of "abuse ", which would be the first suspicion if a child had been found wandering around under similar circumstances. It's rather cheering that the national obsession with bestiality is one little adolescent tic that has rather drifted off the radar. I haven't heard a wellies-and-sheep joke for years now.

The little creature has been lucky, I think. Years ago, when the manager of a Soho porn cinema was asked what sort of detritus he found when a show had ended, he vouchsafed that he'd once had to clear away the corpse of a " very attractive rabbit". No doubt the lesser mammals have all benefited marvellously from the free movement of people and the huge expansion of sex-trafficking. So much for cute stories about big-eyed wildlife, eh?

* Grim times on the domestic front, with the crushing news this week that my husband and Independent colleague, Will Self, has failed for the third time to convert his Bad Sex Award nomination into victory. The endless quest goes on. The painstaking research continues. We'll crack it in the end. Surely.

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