The eyes of Camilla Long: how the racist trope of misogyny works

Arzu looks at The Sunday Times’ TV critic Camilla Long’s most recent attack on hijab, praying at school and the rights of Muslim children in her column

Given its proclivity for Brexit (and thus one assumes the proclivity of its readers similarly) it is odd to find appreciative readers of Camilla Long’s latest tirade against Muslims / Muslimness, lauding France as a role model.  Alongside this approbation – specifically for its secular (read anti-Muslim) school system.   The (latest) context?  The court case being brought against the Michaela School in Wembley, northwest London, UK for banning Muslims pupils from praying during the school day.

Such is the world we live in, that a largely Europe hating readership will laud said Europe when it sees it ahead of the game when it comes to oppressing Muslims.  As for Long herself, she claims she cannot stand looking at ‘sweet little girls, well under the age of 11,’ wearing hijab.  She is incensed by this sight and fears having to explain to her daughter who hasn’t yet, but apparently will (according to Long’s maternal foresight) ask, why this dress is donned.  She says she will have two options: to say it is a matter of their faith (which is apparently in Long’s narrative, ridiculous, as children have no ability to have faith); or:

…you can say what I want to say, which is that some people think that women shouldn’t be seen. And they’ve dreamt up this thing of wearing these coverings even though their holy book doesn’t require it. It’s an age-old way of reminding everyone that women are second-class citizens and a problem (mostly sexual). And it is an absolute boiling outrage that it’s forced on girls of six at school.

This is the reality in schools (life) in London (and everywhere): a chaotic, aggrieving clash of opposing wants, wishes, “rights”. I’ve thought about it a lot: who is in the wrong here? Am I being intolerant in not wanting to have to introduce my daughter to the concept of misogyny?

There are things to say about Islamophobia, and they will come below.  But let’s first talk about misogyny.  The sexualisation of school children, specifically school girls in the UK, is now epidemic.  The Times itself has reported on the devastating impact of the now free availability of porn culture on school life, where boys were:

…competing for photos of her knickers – the more intimate the shot, the better the trophy to share around Whatsapp groups and the more lad points to win among their friends.

There were plenty of other things she didn’t miss about Highgate, the private school in north London where, as a 13-year-old, teachers measured her skirt with a ruler, and boys dominated the common room with loud boasts of “smashing” girls and “banging” girls and “thrusting” into their drunken mouths, while the quiet ones laughed along.

And girls were:

…having [their] body parts constantly scored out of ten. Or hearing who had the best lips for blow jobs.

…crying on benches, being comforted by a huddle of female friends, as yet another intimate picture, even more explicit than the last, started pinging its way around everybody’s phones.

…when the boys updated an array of sexual scoreboards to reflect the weekend’s conquests, with all the fervour of fans in a fantasy football league. Who was winning the 12 House Challenge to “get with” a girl from each of the school’s houses? Which of them was on course to pull a particular girl the greatest number of times?

Sophie, whose experience is related above states that ‘she has never been assaulted’.  It is incredible to think that none of the above registers in her mind or that of the person interviewing her as an assault. Misogyny 1 – British school culture 0.

The article goes on to report the 14,000 anonymous testimonies form school children – mainly at the time the article was written (April 2021) – from fee paying (read elite) schools in the UK, but that it was expected that the scandal and outrage caused would be sweeping across the full school sector in the country.  The government’s rushed review on sexual violence in schools reported two months later, and its finding make difficult reading.  This includes the following:

  • nearly 90% of girls, and nearly 50% of boys, said being sent explicit pictures or videos of things they did not want to see happens a lot or sometimes to them or their peers;
  • 92% of girls, and 74% of boys, said sexist name-calling happens a lot or sometimes to them or their peers. The frequency of these harmful sexual behaviours means that some children and young people consider them normal.
  • In 2015, the police responded to an FOI request and reported that nearly 4,000 alleged physical sexual assaults and more than 600 rapes in schools had been reported in the preceding 3 years.

The following graphic highlights the findings of the government’s research.   Is this a Muslim problem?  Clearly not.



Unwanted touching 24 64
Feeling pressured to do sexual things they did not want to 27 68
Sexual assault of any kind 38 79
Unwanted or inappropriate sexual comments 55 80
Rumours about sexual activity 53 81
Sexist name-calling 74 92


Note: around 790 pupils answered the question for each type of harmful sexual behaviour. The number varies slightly by question because a few children and young people skipped some questions.


As it happens, Sophie’s account of school life Is not too dissimilar to those of my generation, just that the sexual harassment we encountered did not have the added layers of ubiquitous porn consumption fuelling stereotypes about women and sex, nor phones with cameras able to violate your privacy and provide means of endless abuse via circulation of (your) images.  It was this culture that led many like me to adopt the hijab.  Not all hijabis, but a significant number (as it happens IHRC did a study on this, and the open-ended responses on why women wore hijab were diverse.  Read it here).  Given the aforementioned obsession that the UK needs to adopt French style laïcité when it comes to Muslims and schools, it is worth noting Joan Wallach Scott’s damning indictment.  Whilst hijab bans were imposed on Muslim school girls, many of whom and yes, the parents of many of whom stated the hijab was a way to break the endless cycle of sexual objectification that women and girls face daily, the French Minister for Education was calling on school girls to think about the way they dressed at school during the 2000s trend for wearing thongs with a visible string line above the waist band.  Indeed girls were sent home for doing so.  The Minister was concerned that those students doing so were perpetuating the sexualisation that plagued women in a misogynistic society.  The so-called string affair ran alongside the hijab bans.

It is then not about misogyny – at least not Muslim male misogyny.

It’s so drearily repetitive.  Muslim men control Muslim women and girls.  Impose dress.  Blah blah.  Blah blah.  In Long’s recent contention, they also misread their own religious texts in order to enforce the twin ideas of women as a (sexual) problem in society AND the need for them to ‘not be seen’.  Given then amount of newspaper inches devoted to hijab bashing these last few decades, it has surely been the most counterproductive measure of misogyny ever, to enforce hijab to invisibalise women, when it is actually making Muslim women more visible to the irascible eye of what passes as a commentariat in the UK.  But here is the twist.  One that maybe you need to be my age to understand.  As arguments go about the hijab / veil / voile / headscarf / insert name here, while the villain of the piece – the Muslim man – remains the same, the reason has shifted.  As I grew up, hijab was seen as oppressive because it ‘desexualised’ women.  Unable to present their sensuality to all and sundry (read men), Muslim women’s liberation (read sexual availability, to men) was stifled.  Now, and I am not sure when, but former Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman heralded the public shift to this: girls wearing hijab are now being sexualised.

So which is it?  Well neither.  This ping ponging is nothing new.  Missionaries sent to Muslim lands sought to tame Muslim women’s sexuality in the name of Christian values.  To be clear the idea of Muslim women, who divorced and remarried, and whose literature and teachings did not see sex as innately shameful, needed to be tamed.  This is about control of Muslim women, but not by their men.  It is about removing their agency: it is clear in Long’s piece that she believes no Muslim girl or woman, child or mother has any say or ability to interpret religious text or act on their own wishes and beliefs.  Only the commentator, channelling prevailing racist tropes of Muslim men and their supposed hatred of women, as well as prevailing misogynistic tropes that deny women and girls (in this case racialised women) agency and rationality, has any power to speak.

This is neither Long, nor The (Sunday) Times’ first rodeo when it comes to Islam / Muslim bashing.  To reply to each and every one could become a full-time job.  I wrote this because, unlike Long, I have had the conversation about misogyny with my daughter – at school, university and work: about rape culture, sexual objectification, when she was younger also about grooming.  All communities are affected by it – why?  Because the prevailing culture is fully permeated with these ills.  Projecting racialised fantasies onto Muslim men helps no woman or child.  Anywhere.  Ever.  Doing so is at best a distraction from the actual problems women and girls face, and at worst a negligent or deliberate contribution to the racialised violence Muslims face.

That violence takes different forms.  Daily micro-aggressions and street based violence all stem for a culture that denies not just agency, but humanity, to Muslims and all racialised people.  Hate crimes, as these are often termed, when exposed, can and do hit a sympathetic nerve.  Even the type of hate speech found in the comments section of Times’ articles have caught the eye of other (Times’) commentators.  Matthew Parris noted that in response to an article similar to Long’s by Janice Turner, the subscriber only comments (hardly populated by far-right street thugs) ran to around 500 and that 90% were “hostile and many of them biliously so.”

It is the state’s violence that is often overlooked – the demonisation of Muslim men and or black men making anti-terrorism and Sus law stops and searches a matter of everday life; allowing rafts of security and policing laws to be enacted and or operate through a racialised lens, including disproportionate focus, arrests, convictions and longer sentences.  That is the UK’s experience.  Do I need to elaborate on the US experience?

Hebh Jamal has written a superb piece on how this demonisation is working in the context of the genocide underway in Gaza.  Discussing the racist dehumanisation of Palestinian men and the gendering of the war, she explains:

Since 7th October, pro-Israel advocates have described systematic rape committed by Hamas fighters against Israeli women

While Palestinian outlets have already pointed to massive flaws with this categorisation, the seeming success of this propaganda has not only created a justification for the genocide unfolding against Gazans, but also has created a predatory view of Palestinian men as violent misogynists at best and dangerous predatory rapists at worst.

This in turn obscures the actual acts of sexual violence perpetrated by the Israelis against Palestinian women, children, boys and men before and during the last three months:

Of course, this type of systematic sexual violence does not meet the mainstream. Palestinian men are not seen as victims of war, conflict and unjust imprisonment. Their abuse is often followed by the question, “what did they do to deserve it?”

At its worst – as the ‘permanent wars’ of now, the French in the Algerian war of independence, and every other (neo)colonial project, have shown – the racist trope of misogyny is powerful, brutal, murderous.

This, Camilla, if you want to see and explain it, is the reality in life, in London, and everywhere.

Arzu Merali is a writer and researcher based in London, UK.  Find her on social media or email her via the site.



Photo: Pray by xrichx CC2.0