Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Jim Fitzpatrick’s Wedding Gaffe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st August, 2009

Jim FitzpatrickMy local MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, is in the doghouse in the eyes of many of my Muslim neighbours, having walked out of a wedding reception at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel Road, because he was told that the event was segregated by gender, which meant that his wife would have to go to the women’s room. Doubtless he just left in a huff, without thinking through the consequences, but when questioned later he said he did not think that gender segregation was appropriate in the modern age and that it damages community cohesion in Britain. But the affair has blown up into a major scandal. The bridegroom, Bodrul Islam, who had invited the Fitzpatricks, has reportedly demanded that the MP apologise for ‘politically hijacking’ his wedding, and Hanif Osmani of the Council of Mosques in Tower Hamlets told the East London Advertiser, ‘Mr Fitzpatrick’s own actions have undoubtedly caused more harm to local and national community cohesion than any such wedding ever could.’ The Advertiser is having a field day, of course; right in the middle of the summer silly season, here is a really meaty local issue!

George Galloway, Respect MP for neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow, who is planning to hop over into Poplar and Limehouse constituency to challenge Jim Fitzpatrick at the next general election, has gone typically overboard, calling on Gordon Brown to sack Fitzpatrick as Minister of Food and Farming. That would of course be quite absurd, as the MP’s gaffe has no bearing on his abilities as a government Minister. However, the affair does reflect badly on his ability to represent half of a borough in which there are an estimated 70,000 Muslims, many of whom are outraged at what they see as a slur on their cultural practices. Some of the readers’ letters in this week’s Advertiser are vitriolic about the MP and the Labour Party is taking flak as a consequence. ‘The local Labour ship is sinking and it is sinking fast,’ one correspondent writes. ‘His ignorance and rudeness are symptomatic of the desperate state of the Labour party, which is haemorrhaging past supporters to the extremes of politics,’ says another. A third notes pertinently that Orthodox Jews have gender-segregated religious events, too.

Meanwhile around the taxi rank and newstand at Mile End station, some of the old East End white working class is mutttering loudly about how ‘these Muslims are not like us’ and making similar disparaging remarks. Jim Fitzpatrick might be encouraged to know that he has some local supporters for his stance, but the whole affair has dealt a blow to multiculturalism in Tower Hamlets. Coming on the eve of Ramadan, it could hardly have been worse-timed.

4 Responses to “Jim Fitzpatrick’s Wedding Gaffe”

  1. […] I follow Jonathan Fryer on Twitter, which is how I found out about MP Jim Fitzpatrick’s wedding debacle at the London Muslim Center. Basically, Fitzpatrick and his wife were invited to a Muslim wedding, walked out when they realized […]

  2. David Bartlett said

    Although this makes great schadenfreude, you’ve neatly avoided saying where you stand and what you would have done yourself…..

  3. jonathanfryer said

    What I would have done, David, would be to have warned my (hypothetical) wife that we might be separated at the wedding, because of Muslim tradition, in a religiously conservative venue and that if it was a problem for her to be with alone with the other women (though I am not quite sure why some European commentators say that would be ‘demeaning’), then maybe it would be better that she did not attend. Similarly, if a Muslim couple are invited to a Western wedding where the genders are mixed, a Muslim wife should have the right not to attend if she is bothered by the fact that she is likely to be seated next to an unknown European man. Maybe because I have worked so much in Arab and other Islamic countries, the idea of gender segregation at social events does not bother me (and of course, in most of the countries concerned, European and Indian expatriates happily have mixed wedding parties). It’s a case of ‘different traditions, different customs’.

  4. amberdawn said

    Ouch. A public figure should know better.

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