Photo / Tanya N
Tower Hamlets council is eager to increase the number of tourists (for which, read: richer folk) who pass through the area, and has proposed a 'cultural trail', stopping off at some of the more interesting sights (including the elegant "steel tower" that just completed on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street; a minaret by any other name). Under council plans, a distinctive new sculpture would be built at the trailhead. Unlike the box-fresh goat at Bishop's Square, which represents the different waves of migrants to the area, the new one is inspired by the most recent immigrants, the Bangladeshis who hail largely from that country's Sylhet region, and in particular one of the more controversial elements of their Muslim faith: the hijab, or headscarf.
The hijab, which will be depicted in illuminated stainless steel arches should the sculpture go ahead, hasn't yet assumed the political significance in Britain that it has in France. But it remains a divisive issue, not least among Muslims. A local Muslim woman quoted by the Guardian criticised the proposal as promoting a "stereotypical image" of the faith, while another, hijab-wearing woman, described the £1.85 million project as a "waste of money". It's also a wholly unnecessary bauble: a cursory stroll along the Lane will reveal to the most incurious that this is an area populated by a large number of Muslims. Why the need for such a cack-handed symbol? Can our mongrel city not function without unsubtle markers indicating for the stupid and the simple where the different tribes dwell?
Despite an outburst of council doublethink by Tower Hamlets, who insist that the hijab sculpture is emblematic not just of Muslims but of "Jewish men [who] use a kippah or yarmulke" and the "headscarves or bandannas [worn] as a fashion statement" by the young and on-trend, this is nothing less than an attempt to enshrine an ethnically and religiously heterogenous area area with the imprimatur of a single faith.