Wednesday, 27 January 2010

To be - or Not To Be.........seen.

Hullo ma wee blog,

I don't often wander into such dramatically hot political/religious waters perhaps but I hope you forgive me on this occasion.

A French parliamentary committee has recommended a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils. The question being asked now is should there be a similar ban in the UK - and would it work?

Just across the English Channel, allowing a woman to veil her face in public places such as hospitals, government offices and on public transport could soon be called into question. In a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law, a parliamentary committee report ruled the veil was "contrary to the values of the republic" and called on parliament to adopt a formal resolution proclaiming "all of France is saying 'no' to the full veil".

France - which is home to five million Muslims - has a history of debating the full veil, with President Nicolas Sarkozy declaring it "not welcome" in 2010.

The country banned Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols at state schools in 2004.

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women.

These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours.

The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.

The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.

The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.

The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.

The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

On Monday in the Independent newspaper the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote:

"It is gratifying that so many white British liberals have come out to defend shrouded Muslim women. Their generosity of spirit and messianic belief in liberty makes them recoil from a state ban on the burka.

Here, we are reassured, such a ban would be impossible. OK, the bonkers UKIP lot and rabid BNP bang on about it; noisy nuisances, easily ignored. Liberals say it just isn't British to prohibit and limit the personal choices of freeborn citizens.

Really? The British never accept any curtailment of individual preferences? So how has it come to pass that in this green and free land, we have more state surveillance and imposed restrictions and regulations than any other EU country ? Why, we can't even take snaps in the streets without a hand of authority falling on the shoulder.

Naturists would love, I'm sure, to wander down Oxford Street, just window-shopping of course. They can't, because for most people that would be too much out there. Women in the full burka are the other side of that same coin. They give too little out there and, using passive violence, disconnect from the humanity around them.

Then the creed of liberalism, that passion for freedom and choice which sustains and vitalises Western civilisations. Ever more precious and fragile in today's world, I can see why it must be honoured and sheltered from the armies of repression.

However does liberalism have any duty to those who use liberal values as weapons to promote illiberalism? Is it obliged to become a suicide bomber, to self-destruct to prove itself?

We Muslims worldwide are engaged in ideological struggles against the Saudi Wahabis who have the cash and cunning to lure disenchanted middle-class and impoverished, powerless Muslims into their caves, where light itself fears to enter. Yet some liberal Westerners take dilettante positions on freedom because their own lives are unaffected. Instead of standing with modernists, the staunchest defenders of freedom, they defect to the enemy. The retrogressive Muslim Council of Britain is now back in bed with the Government.

You people who support the "freedom" to wear the burka, do you think anorexics and drug addicts have the right to choose what they do? This covering makes women invisible, invalidates their participatory rights and confirms them as evil temptresses. Does it stop men from raping them? Does it mean they have more respect in the home and enclaves? Like hell it does. I feel the same fury when I see Orthodox Jewish women in wigs, with their many children, living tightly proscribed lives.

I also understand that as society becomes less restrained, fear makes Muslims opt for separation. Used as a political protest, veils have potency – but the price is too high. Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress wants the burka banned because gender equality is non-negotiable. British Muslims for Secular Democracy (of which I am chair) are against a ban but do support restrictions in key public spaces, and point out that during the Haj pilgrimage no woman covers her face, that the burka makes women more, not less, conspicuous, and that communication is unequal because one party hides all expression."

Its a difficult question to be sure. There are no easy answers.

My view is constantly updating. I firmly hold against injustice and for peoples right to live as much as possible without interference and regulation in whatever way they choose. I'm protective of the freedoms that we have in our society while feeling that we need to work hard to make society more, not less accepting of the potential benefits of immigration and the ability of other cultures to enrich our society, our understanding and our future. But I'm also aggrieved by those who choose to come and take the advantages of our culture, our society, our freedoms and yet will not participate, will not engage, will not embrace the culture that provides so much. To me the burqa and niqab represents this rejection of the west, of our culture and values. Its alien. They deliberately prevent direct communication. It clashes visibly, incontrovertibly and deliberately with our beliefs and values in a dramatic, physical and for many, highly intimidating way. It says I am not to be trusted to treat you with respect. It says you want to be separated and protected from me and that you reject my cultures heritage and values. For that reason I would support a ban on these items of clothing in public places and any other symbol which refuted our values so strongly. I'm not against the hijab, Al-mira, shayla or any other version or covering of heads etc.

Simply put if wearing the burqa or niqab is a statement of who you are and your values, you have no place in my society just as I want no place in yours, nor for instance in a society supporting someone who wants to walk down our streets, pray in our religious houses or teach in our schools in riot gear or a Nazi uniform.

I believe that we Britons, the Muslims, Christians and all religions and elements of our society have a huge challenge working together in overcoming the obstacles which create divisions that should have no part in a free, fair, open and multicultural Britain in the 21st century.

see you later........

Listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter 'Stones in the Road'


lom said...

Well put

Bovey Belle said...

I am not at my most coherant, having been awoken early by cats with more energy than sense, but I am with you on this. The key word is integration. Mind you, the French have always taken a stand on their beliefs- look at what they did to our lamb imports.

Big Swifty said...

My view is that people should behave in a way appropriate for where they are. Although people hide behind all kinds of identities on the internet, I feel that showing your face in public is part of British public life. I behave differently in different places or in different company, out of consideration for others (though I'm probably still annoying!). If I went to a muslim country, out of respect I would expect to adopt their standards when in public. A friend of mine went to Sudan last year, and she was expected to wear a burkah when in public, which she happily did. I asked if she had a photo of herself in one, and if so, how would I know if it was her?
So many issues here, and I could rant on about church and state, and becoming a republic. I think the French have it right.
Thanks Al for airing a very interesting and thought provoking subject.

Morning's Minion said...

I read this rather hastily and sleepily last evening and had to read it again tonight to get the full sense. I'm pondering, taking the premise and applying it to other groups of people and sets of beleifs.
Will try to get my head sorted and reply coherently.

Anonymous said...

You'll have been waiting for me to comment on this one I guess Al ?
Well ,,,, I don't think I will ! This is one for a long night's discussion over a wee dram or two.
My full comments would possibly take up more space than your blog !
Let's just say I share your fury & if you can't see the face then it's not Britain.
It would be on my list of questions at the Immigration Door .,., If you want to wear a Burqa then sorry ,, you're no' gettin' in !

Alistair said...


since the sporting columns seem to be going Murray mad - if I might take up a tennis based skew on this I did expect more of a smash than a backhand return, even with spin, on this one for sure.


The Clever Pup said...

I agree with you. It's hard to bring this thing up in Canada because we are so darn politically correct.

When I see a woman in the full regalia I see a woman who doesn't want to interact with me, she seems unapproachable. She doesn't want to be like her new fellow countrywomen, or accept Canada's beliefs of openness and togetherness. Is that not the main reason for immigrating here in the first place?

All of this is ironic because I've been raised to be tolerant. But because of the way she dresses herself, the veiled woman seems to have no interest in being part of our wonderful, multi-cultural environment. Again, ironic

Alistair said...

Thanks for your comment C-Pup.

Interesting - and a world wide issue.

Would our women be welcome to walk down a muslim street in shorts and a skimpy top if they so chose to do - I don't think so......


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