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Of veils and offense

by Helen Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 08:31:22 AM EST

The matter of Islamic Veiling has become a hot topic in the UK. Sadly the traditional media have shown neither imagination nor flair in their examination of it. Merely pitting conservative muslims, both male and female, up against Joe and Jane Public in one of the least informative debates you could imagine. As it's one of the most important discussions we can have in the secular world at this time, that's a crying shame.

So I welcome Yasmin Alibai-Brown's essay in the Independent (trapped behind subscription wall, so no link). Extended quotes below;-

Promoted by Colman


We don't yet live in an islamic republic where men and women are forced to live on separate planets. Millions of muslims in europe abhor these obscurantists for the way in which they have brainwashed young women to seek subjugation. It breaks our hearts. After all, caged birds often prefer to stay in their cage even after they have been freed. I don't call that a choice.

A liberal nation has no obligation to extend its liberalism to condone the most illiberal practices, as long as it ensures genuine equal standards for all.............................. The media lurches drunkenly between pandering to muslim separatists and maligning us all as the aliens within.It is hard to be muslim today. And it becomes harder still when some choose deliberately to act and dress as aliens.

The young women in nicab (full face covering) who claim they have made the decision without coercion understand nothing about the sacred islamic texts, the struggles for gender equality, the history or the unpleasant sexual symbolism of what they claim is just one more lifestyle choice. "Oh I won't have that green coat, I think it is the black shroud for me. Suits me better, don't you think ?"

Britains who support them know nothing of the march of Wahabism. I have been uncomfortable for years sbout the rapid rise of the hijab too, because for islamic purists it is the first staging post on a road map that leads to the burqa, where even the eyes are gauzed over.Some young hijab wearers say they feel wanton and must go higher to the hiqab. So when does this country decide that it does not want citizens using their freedoms to build a satellite Saudi Arabia here ?

We can't answer that question, because islamicists say we are not allowed such conversations. Straw isn't allowed because he is a white man. Parliament can't because there is no muslim woman MP. I'm not allowed because I am a bad muslim. "Stuff that" I say. The garment offends me and this is why.

The sacred texts have no specific injunctions about covering hair or face. The veil predates islam and was common amongst Asssyrian royalty, byzantine upper-class Christians and also Bedouins - men and women - when sandstorms blasted their faces. Women from the Prophet's family covered their faces to prevent harassment from petitioners. The son of Umar, a companion to the Prophet asked his wife to veil her face as well. To which she replied " Since the almighty has put upon me the stamp of beauty, it is my wish that the public should view this beauty and recognise this grace upon them."

In the 10th century, veils were imposed across the Middle East specifically to diminish the status of women. Female chastity and "honour" became jealously guarded. But the cutom never spread far. You didn't find it in Pakistan, Banglasdesh, Indonesia, thailand or Malaysia. A witness in Turkey in the 14th C noted that women's faces were always visible. In 1899 a muslim writer, Qasim Amin, wrote a treatise, the emancipation of women, in which he proved that the veil was not an inviolable part of islam. His ideas incensed conformist women, who attacked his gender, not his arguments, (Helen adds : Just as Nazirah Zein-ed-Din was attacked by male clerics for being female when she made similar arguments in Algeria in 1928 in her pamphlet "Removing the veil and veiling")

These arguments inspired Attaturk in Turkey and the Shah of Iran to ban the veil.

Sadly this made them into a cause. In Iran educated women who fail stringent veil tests are imprisoned, branded whores and beaten. In Iraq, palestine and now algeria too. In Afghanistan the Taliban are pushing women back into the home and full burqa. Instead of expressing solidarity with these women, santimonious British niqabis are siding with their foes.

The sexual signals of the hijab and niqab are even more suspect. These covering as are physical manifestations of the pernicious idea of women as carriers of Original Sin, whose faces and hair turn men into predators. In Denmark a mufti said unveiled women were asking for rape, so rape by muslim men is now rising alarmingly there. In truth, half-naked women and veiled women are both solely defined by sexuality. One group proffers it, another witholds. A young girl in a boob tube or hijab are both symbols of unhealthy sexual objectification.

The niqab expunges the female muslim presence from the landscape and hands over the world to men. It rejects human commonalities and even membership of society itself. They dehumanize themselves and us too by wearing it. Public and private institutions should have the right to ask citizens to show their faces to get goods and serices. Hoodies and crash-helmet wearers already have to. Why should niqab wearers be exempt ?

Irshad Manji, the author of "The trouble with islam today" also rails against the veil,

Call me superficial, but desert tribalism can be detected even in what muslims are instructed to wear. Millions of women veil themselves, accepting it as an act of spiritual submission. It's closer to cultural capitiulation. Post revolutionary chadors as modelled by iranian women come originally from the Lebanon. Now that's a heavy-duty import. While the Quran required the Prophet's wives to veil, it never decrees such a practice for all women. Why should it  Veils protect from the sand and heat. Not exactly pressing concerns beyond Arabia, the Sahara and the Australian outback.. To cover my face because "that's what I'm supposed to do" is nothing short of a brand victory for desert Arabs. Tell me, should allah operate like Prada ?

She has also argued that, as Mohammed asked his wives to wear the veil to denote their status as "Blessed of Mohammed", for other women to take the veil is to deem themselves equally "Blessed". A position she contends is potentially blasphemous.

However, without a real debate it is impossible to know how true these arguments are and how seriously we should take them. After all, within Islam there is the concept of Ijmah, the concensus of the community. The thinking being that God would not allow the entire ummah (muslim community) to be in error, so if a custom was accepted by all muslims it must be authentic.

So there is much that needs to be debted, both within the muslim community as well as with the wider secular society. Sadly no such debate will occur and meanwhile the pressures seem to be building to drive our society into not-so-silent cultural conflict.

Display:
Both the Amish (and variants of them) and Orthodox Jewish communities in the US maintain obvious differences in dress and appearance. This persists from one generation to the next, but in order to achieve this they must keep their children almost completely isolated from the rest of society.

While both groups are fairly small, their presence doesn't seem to have any adverse effect on the rest of society. Both groups see young people leave and join the mainstream, but not in the same proportion as happens with regular immigrants. One can argue that those brought up in such an isolated manner really don't have the ability to make an informed choice about whether they wish to continue in their communities, but this argument can also be made for every less controlling group as well.

Personally, I think requiring universal, secular education is appropriate for a democracy. If parents want their children to learn specific religious material this should be done after the regular school day. This, of course, will never happen in the US, but I think various European countries work this way.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 08:53:26 AM EST
Well, I think it could all be solved if we could just bring ourselves to stop telling women what is appropriate for them to wear and let (force) them make up their own minds (gasp).  Religious leaders, politicians, society...  seems like they should all have much more important things to spend their time worrying about.  

And, flame away, but if veiled women are sick of being pawns in this game, maybe they could do a bit more standing up for themselves.  And maybe men could stop threatening them with death if they do.  

Ok, now I'm really in trouble...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 09:02:20 AM EST
It's a bit difficult to stand up for yourself when the threat of death is real.

Also, Irshad Manji goes to great lengths to describe the extent to which her islamic "education" within the madrassah attached to her mosque in Canada departed from the teachings of the quran.

She describes how difficult it is for the average muslim to determine not just what Mohammed actually said but what he meant because the only qurans and commentaries in the mosque are in Arabic. So you just accept what you're told, even when it's total bs. And if the women are taught that covering up is equivalent to piety, how are they to gather the information and debating skills to argue ?

Especially when the answer could be a stoning, a burning or just banishment from home.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 09:33:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Irshad Manjji is not a credible voice in the debate, except as a useful interlocutor for westerners who want what they believed reconfirmed.

Look I feel kind of bad that Europe and for the  has gotten itself in this spot, but the Islamic world is vastly different and will be for a long time. Issues of colonialism, neo-imperialism, foolish immigration/assimilation policies are all part of the problem. Basically, the issue could be underlined well - if you want to live in, say, Britain, you have to accept the basic expectations of the society. If you don't want to, than  you have to leave. Full stop.

What Straw said was perfectly fine, and I thought reasonably phrased. But all the usual suspects are jumping in and trying to draw Europe into debates which it can only make worse. Its the same thinking that got Britain - less so t he US - into Iraq, thinking that its own values are somehow universal and that it our "duty" to "change" people who don't want changing - and aren't going to change in the short term, certainly not if we bully them.

Muslims have to know are standards and what is acceptable and not acceptable and what is and what is not to be expected from countries they immigrate from. But making this about a larger question that involves the Islamic world itself is a fools errand.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 05:42:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Roz Kaveney has some interesting things to add to the debate on her blog

http://rozk.livejournal.com/130055.html#cutid1

Jack Straw actually has a very good reason for asking to see their faces which he did not mention in the article and which hardly anyone has mentioned in the newspapers, which is that he is reasonably well-known to be seriously deaf and to need to lip read.

How do women who wear the niqab or the burqa feel about Muslim women who do not, and about non-Islamic women who don't even begin to understand the question? I see that from the various interviews they see themselves as justified by religion and that they claim feelings of liberation from the male gaze. After years hanging round in contexts where e.g. radical separatists despised almost everyone else, and made their contempt manifest, I find myself wondering whether veil-wearing women are similarly patronizing, or not.

Difference and separation is one thing; thinking that you are a whole lot better than anyone else is quite another. And this applies to many groups apart from Muslims.

I noticed that one correspondent in The Guardian was asking whether Straw was offended by women displaying cleavage. Hmm, that's a bit of a giveaway about where he's coming from.

The trouble with modesty/immodesty dress codes is that they blend rather neatly into Madonna/whore dichotomies in the way you treat and regard other women. This creates pressure inside communities to comply and be Good if you don't want to be treated as Bad.

And yes, there are a lot of other pressures on non-Muslim women in our society about which we can go on and on forever. Breast enlargement and fuckme shoes and Trinny and frakking Susanna - and as someone sensible said, freedom to choose includes bad choices.

And finally, my faourite

I am thoroughly sick and tired of having to pretend that I think that weird things people do because of religion are made more acceptable and less contemptible because they are God-Botherers.


keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 10:46:33 AM EST
Alibai-Brown's presentation of the origins of the veil in Middle Eastern society was very eye-opening to me.  But even assuming she is right about these origins (and their ultimate intent being the subjugation of women), how does she propose to curtail this "most illiberal practice"?

(That murder is illegal clearly hasn't stopped honour killings from happening, so I don't see how legally restricting the wearing of the veil would be any more likely to inhibit bullies from intimidating, assaulting, and murdering girls and women who refuse to wear the veil.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 10:55:52 AM EST
I don't see how legally restricting the wearing of the veil would be any more likely to inhibit bullies from intimidating, assaulting, and murdering girls and women who refuse to wear the veil.

Actually, how prevalent are such incidents in the U.K.?  Benighted as they may be (according to Alibai-Brown) regarding the origins and meaning of the veil, it seems to me that a preponderance of Muslim women wear the veil comfortably, happily, freely, and without being forced or threatened to.  Is this impression incorrect?  Or are most Muslim women secretly yearning to throw off the veil but cannot even hint as to this hidden frustration for fear of being brutally silenced?  On this question, Sassafras's comment below is interesting.

I was thinking this over again, and it occurred to me that a state-supported ban on the veil could indeed give those girls and women who resent the veil a very significant arm to lean on -- i.e. the state -- in their resistance against family, peers and community members who try to force them to wear it. Jerome cites an "internal report from the Ministry of Education" of France (no impartial source, of course, mais bon), noting:

the report states that the new law [banning religious signs in schools in France] has been viewed with "relief" by a number of students and their families

So conceivably, banning veils in Britain could provide the same sort of "relief" to women, girls and families who feel oppressed and forced into wearing the veil.

On the other hand, the stormy present points out above that

Under the Shah in Iran, some women under literally refused to ever leave their homes because they could not go out veiled.  If families are keeping their girls out of school because they can't go to school wearing hijab, that's a problem.

Personally, I would guess that the stormy present's Iranian scenario (where parents keep their girls out of school) is less likely to occur in the U.K. than the French scenario where girls and students felt "liberated" by the explicit succor of the state.

On the whole, however, I think the "evil" of the state -- or society at large -- pressuring or forcing private individuals into dressing or not dressing in certain ways is greater than the "evil" of some girls and women being harassed, intimidated, assaulted and murdered for not wearing the veil, mainly because I do not think banning the veil will solve the underlying causes of such misogynistic oppression and violence (which, I believe, but am not sure, is the exception rather than the rule).  Also -- even if a ban on the veil did prevent all such dress-related violence against women in Muslim communities (again, which I am skeptical it would) -- the end (freedom from such misogynistic oppression) does not justify the means (state/social regulation of dress codes).

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 07:57:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, how prevalent are such incidents in the U.K.?
An article in the Independant I googled up, says that as of the end of 2005 there were '12 cases catalogued' and the Met was reexamining 117 suspicious deaths. No indication of what timespan or geographic area they were talking about unfortunately.

The official UN figure is ~5000 murders/year worldwide, but most commentators seem to think that this is a gross underestimate.

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:08:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.  Just to verify: these are murders explicitly related to girls or women not wearing a veil?

(I am trying to distinguish from other kinds of violence against women, such as "honor killings" and killings in domestic quarrels in general.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:15:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope. These are honour killings in general - clearly the victim will have behaved in a way that is deemed to have brought dishonour upon her relatives, but I have no idea what the breakdown of 'dishonourable behaviours' might be. I imagine that the list would be very variable and context dependant and that the victims might well tick several boxes in the run up to being murdered.

Having said that, I don't think you need to have a cut and dried case of 'daughter refuses to dress modestly and is strangled by her brother with an electrical flex the next morning' before you are able to say that intimidation might be in play for this issue. Homicide sits at the extreme end of a spectrum of coercive sanctions that a family or community can deploy to control the behaviour of their less powerful members and you don't need that many actual homicides for the message to get through loud and clear.

Having said that, whilst I think that coercion is a factor (probably quite a significant factor) I must also aknowledge the following points:

i) That a fraction of the women in question will have fully internalised the coercive message of their families/culture. If asked they will say that they adopt the veil of their own volition (and mean it).

ii) That a fraction of the women in question will have transcended this coercive message. If asked they will say that they have chosen to adopt the veil of their own volition (and mean it).

iii) That a fraction of the women in question will have been oppressed and browbeaten by this coercive message. If asked some will say that they adopt the veil of their own volition (and will be lying), some will say they are coerced and some will ask for help.

iv) That only the veil-wearing woman can ever know why they wear a veil. The rest of us have to go by what these women tell us.

Following on from this gets me to the classic liberal stance of toleration for the behaviour of competant adults who aren't harming others. I don't have to like that behaviour, but the true test of my liberal tolerance is precisely behaviour that I dislike even to the point of finding it offensive. According to this formulation Jack Straw isn't a liberal, but that's hardly news.

So I tolerate the veil as part of the modus vivendi that permits a civil society to function. If a woman (and I note with interest that it is almost always women - the only male victims of honour killings appear to be exogamous, unless you count the perpetrators) seeks support to escape the malign influence of her possibly murderous relatives then it is my duty as a liberal to assist them in whatever way I can; but if they decide to come to an accommodation with their relatives or actively tell me that they are happy behaving as they do, then it is patronising in the extreme for those of us on the outside to seek to liberate them 'for their own good'.

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 10:44:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're still operating from the perspective that there must be coercion involved in the decision.  

So if everyone in the world were freed from the chains of their cultures' expectations, they'd all be acting and dressing just like us, right?

Come on.  Conflating the hijab with honor killings is absurd.

But while honor killings have elicited considerable attention and outrage, human rights activists argue that they should be regarded as part of a much larger problem of violence against women.

In India, for example, more than 5,000 brides die annually because their dowries are considered insufficient, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Crimes of passion, which are treated extremely leniently in Latin America, are the same thing with a different name, some rights advocates say.

"In countries where Islam is practiced, they're called honor killings, but dowry deaths and so-called crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable," said Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The practice, she said, "goes across cultures and across religions."

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 11:14:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Personally, I would guess that the stormy present's Iranian scenario (where parents keep their girls out of school) is less likely to occur in the U.K. than the French scenario where girls and students felt "liberated" by the explicit succor of the state.

And you would be wrong. If I am not mistaken, the Netherlands considered ending coeducation in secondary schools because girl-only schools was seen as the only way to get parents to allow their daugters to go to school.

In East London, municipal leisure centres have "women only" activities, and even periods when all the activities are women-only because otherwise many muslim women would not attend. So we're there already.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:12:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting.  So it looks like banning the veil is not really an option for Britain.  (This seems to indicate a very big difference between France and the UK -- and the Netherlands -- on this issue.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:17:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The big difference is that France's attitude is don't ask, don't tell. You are French, full stop. The UK gets out of its way to accommodate people's languages, social mores and faiths. It's an integration (some would say assimilation) model as opposed to a multicultural model.

Muslims are just over 3% in England and Wales, but they are concentrated rather than spread out, so in those communities where there is a large muslim population [the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has 36% muslims] the dynamics are different from the rest of the country.

According to the 2001 census 1,536,015 Muslims are living in England and Wales, where they form 2.7 % of the population, in Scotland they represent 0.84 % of the population (42,557). The Northern Ireland census indicated 1,943 Muslims.

The local authorities with the highest percentage of Muslim population are:

  • London Borough of Tower Hamlets 36.4% 71,389
  • London Borough of Newham 24.3% 59,293
  • Blackburn with Darwen19.4% 26,674
  • Bradford 16.1% 75,188
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest 15.1% 32,902
  • Luton 14.6% 26,963
  • Birmingham 14.3% 139,771
  • London Borough of Hackney 13.8% 27,908
  • Pendle 13.4% 11,988
  • Slough 13.4% 15,897
  • London Borough of Brent 12.3% 32,290

The town of Dewsbury is also known as an area with a large number of Muslims, making up around 30% of the population. Three of the town's schools are specifically Islamic. However, it is part of the district of Kirklees, which is only 10.12% Muslim.


Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:28:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can imagine how David Cameron's latest "idea" will have sounded in the local authorities on that list... But of course, in those areas the Tories are not even an also-ran. It's usually Lab-Lib, and in Tower hamlets and Newham the Respect party is making a strong showing.
IRNA: Opposition leader vows to break up 'ghettos' in Britain (October 4, 2006)
In his speech as party leader at the final day of Conservative's annual conference, David Cameron controversially vowed to break up what he called "ghettos" in British cities.

...

Elsewhere in his speech, Cameron was said to be voicing "worries" that communities are allowed to grow up in Britain with "parallel lives" with people from different backgrounds never meeting, talking or visiting each others' homes.

...

"We need to have contact. In many of our towns and cities, we have allowed ghettoes to develop. Whole neighbourhoods cut off from the rest of society," the main opposition leader warned.



Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:39:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I get stuck at the beginning with debates about religious costumes/uniforms coz I don't believe in their God(desses) and so when the issue is what they, as believers are/aren't allowed to wear, I don't think I'm the one to comment.  

I've seen more teenage girls in the hijab recently and there are more women with the full veil, though "more" means one or two a week compared to none a week.  (I think this is a London emigration effect.)

I think (why?) that the hijab-wearing teenagers are making a political gesture and (I) would say that they are free to wear or not to wear the clothes of their choice.  Giving them this respect will, I hope, win calm any poltical us versus them-isms that the Iraq war has inflamed.

I think it is a different issue to the veil.  If some religious types are trying to conflate the two, well, it is there that women believers can fight their battles.  But I can't be part of that argument, I don't think, as the only umma I recognise is the umma of us humans spreading out beyond our narrow species viewpoint ever further.

And some muslims would agree with me, which begs questions about religious obligations...

In other words, I am coco loco my religious friends!

I agree with this comment: Veils protect from the sand and heat. Not exactly pressing concerns beyond Arabia, the Sahara and the Australian outback.), but if I understand the religous concept correctly veils are worn to protect women from the "public" gaze.  So veils aren't worn in private environments such as the home.

I can see no reason, therefore, why a private office in a bank or, in the case of Jack Straw's constituent the constituency office, aren't considered private enviroments (=no public gaze.)

But that's a practical solution involving individuals and layers and levels of trust.

The dangers I see at the moment are:

The word "muslim" (like the words "black" and "white" to choose but two) is being attached to people who are not in fact muslim according to the definition but according to what can I call it?  Cultural defensiveness in the face of actual oppression hostility danger violence?

So you get non religious muslims, just as you have black people who aren't black and white people who aren't white.  This links to Metatone's 5 Ds.  You're "in" or you're "out"; you're "for" or you're "against", and yet the key concepts--the "why" "where" "what" "who" "how" and "when"s of our for and against--vanish upon inspection...

I may not have worded that well.

The other problem is the soundbite simplifying...is it that?  What I heard was that Jack Straw had decided to defend his position (No Veils in the Constituency Office) publicly, which made it sound like he was using it as a platform for politcal ends.

There was no educated conversation.  He didn't mention (I didn't hear him mention or anyone else mention) his deafness, which would have been a good way of making a valid point.  Nor did he (there may have been reasons for this) contain the issue to within the community where it was a real situation/issue (=with complexities and subtleties.)

Good diary, Helen.  Sorry I haven't said anything of interest, I don't think; hopefully others will be more eloquent!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 11:27:13 AM EST
I really don't get the whole obsession with the veil, either among the Islamists or the secular West.  And it gets talked about in such a cardboard-cutout way... Many westerners (especially women) are just convinced that there is no possible way that a woman would choose to wear the hijab or niqab unless she's forced to do so...  Look, if you want to talk about the oppression of women in Islam, there are many much-more-important issues, like inheritance and whether my testimony in court is equal to that of a man.  (Here, it's not.  Legally, I'm half a man.)

The niqab doesn't offend me.  If a woman wants to wear it, that's her business.  If a woman wants to walk down the street dressed as a Klingon warrior, that's her business too.  If she wants to go to the grocery store stark-raving-nude, whatever, lady, that's not my problem.

Everyone who wears the hijab or niqab has a different reason for doing so.  Some do it out of real religious conviction, others because of family pressure, and others because, hey, at least here in Cairo, it's fashionable.

But every time someone in the West starts railing about "liberating women from the veil," it sets off alarm bells for me, because banning the veil politicizeds it just as much as requiring it.  Under the Shah in Iran, some women under literally refused to ever leave their homes because they could not go out veiled.  If families are keeping their girls out of school because they can't go to school wearing hijab, that's a problem.

And the more the West fixates on the veil, the more that wearing it becomes exactly the statement of separateness that Jack Straw "accused" it of being.  (Since when did acting un-British become a crime, anyway?)

Anyway, I'm the furthest thing in the world from an artist, but for some reason this dairy inspired me to pick up an pencil and start sketchin'... please forgive my astonishingly bad handwriting.

OK, I'm off to get some dinner with my head brazenly uncovered during Ramadan, the nerve of me.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 03:12:57 PM EST
I think the strength of a democractic society is proportional to how confident it is in giving its members the freedom to do whatever they want (as long as they don't infringe on others' rights to do what they want.)

When society starts to feel it needs to pressure or force its members to dress or not dress in certain ways, that is a pretty clear sign to me of insecurity and a weakness of the society as a whole.

That is why I was so disappointed with France's rules against banning religious symbols in schools, and why I am very uncomfortable with the current rhetoric encouraging women not to veils in Britain.

If and when Germany abandons its law against Nazi symbolism because it no longer feels threatened by a reversion to fascism or institutionalized racism, that will be a sure sign of the strengthening of German democracy, not its weakening.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 07:19:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am against the veil inside public establishments in France on religious grounds, but I am totally in favour of people wearing ridiculous things on their heads (wigs, veils, turbans, rasta hats, bunny ears ...) on non-religous grounds.

The hard part is for me to reconcile the two. Can't my daughter (I don't have one, this is a rhetorical stance) wear a veil to school if she thinks it looks cool (ie. not on religous grounds)?

by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 07:14:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now we get into the debate on school dress codes. And also on the difference between state schools and private schools. I have serious problems with religious state schools. State schools should be secular and religious schools private. Then we get into the debate on school vouchers and public subsidies for private schools. And so on.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 07:17:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, at this very moment I'm writing with my bare chest visible, wearing only shorts, and bare foot too. No added appendix on my head.

What are you all wearing? Anyone wearing anything over their heads, as we speak? Anyone wearing traditional clothing, such as a suit and a tie, for men?

by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 07:21:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm still wearing my coat for some reason.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 07:54:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am hugely in awe of Yasmin Alibhai Brown; however, on reading this particular column, I was reminded of George Alagiah's comment that, in the UK, class always trumps race.  Humbling as the width and depth of her knowledge and commentary is, the one thing that YAB is emphatically not is working class.

I work in a mostly Muslim inner city school.  I'm no expert on the Koran or writings on the hijab/niqab/burqa, but I don't believe that most of the hijab-wearing women I know fit the stereotype above.  Some women might even be offended by the apparent statement that their hijab signifies their inferior education and poor understanding of their faith.

There has got to be a better starting point for this debate than from a pedestal speaking down...
by Sassafras on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 06:54:23 PM EST
According to our neighbour, women who adhere to the most stringent dress code are generally highly literate and can read the Quran in Arabic. One of these women comes to their house to teach their eldest daughter Arabic in private lessons. I often see veiled women on the bus reading the Quran or commentaries of it (sometimes in bilingual editions with the Quran verses in Arabic and the commentary in English).

Being a scripture-thumping fundamentalist [Christian, Jew or Muslim] does not make you uneducated or illiterate.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:18:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that there are two issues. One is the question of wearing a veil that completely obscures the face, preventing identification of the wearer. This could reasonably be seen as an issue regardless of religious arguments.

But the wearing of a headscarf or a veil doesn't seem particularly bad to me. For one thing, it wasn't all that long ago that European women wore veils and other culturally-identifying clothing. Must the Islamic community be 100% in step with the Christian or secular communities? If it was ok to wear veils in Spain or Italy 25 years ago, why must Muslim women be forced to not wear them now?

In the U.S. it is pretty common to see headscarves, but I have never seen the fully-disguising chador arrangement. Also common are orthodox Jewish outfits, conservative Mennonite clothing, and Catholic nuns wearing traditional garments.

by asdf on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 10:07:38 PM EST
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 04:07:57 AM EST
Yeah, I read that, too.

At the beginning I thought it was going to be an alarmist "Europe is going to hell" piece, but I found it fairly informative and relatively low-key.  (May still be a candidate for deconstruction though.)

One data point that surprised me was the Robert Redeker story, which I had not heard of, but which sort of surprised me, as it is in France.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:24:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just out of curiosity, I wonder if anyone would like to hazard a guess as to where this picture was taken:

Yes, that is a food court in a mall.  But where do you think the mall is?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:40:27 AM EST
I've seen that picture before, so I'll pass...

Our next door neighbour wears very colourful saris. So, ok, she covers her head. Big deal. My mother also owns a lot of nice scarves.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 06:43:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Washington. I recognize that chair in the background.
by Alex in Toulouse on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 07:10:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmmm, close....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 08:20:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 08:26:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, since there are no real guesses...

It's Tehran.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 10:36:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Personally I take the view that in terms of dress an individual should be able to wear what they want. If women choose to wear the veil so be it, and plenty seem to make this choice of their own volition. The whole arguement by any western government against the veilor for that matter any clothing choice is ludicrous. Mini skirts could easily be deemed offensive to certain British or maybe more so other European citizens. Would the government propose banning them? Or maybe be the wearing of hoodies by often black men needs considering by governments.
Maybe a government should spend more of its time trying to foster understanding between the different cultural groups that are in the country rather than trying to start a race war.
by observer393 on Wed Oct 11th, 2006 at 09:37:36 AM EST


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