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...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, March 19, 2007

Take The Veil

I rarely talk of anything Islamic on Sundries, you might have noticed.

Firstly, I do not consider myself particularly wise on the topic -- salutary behaviour for one so given to throwing her knowledge about, you'll agree.

Secondly, despite it being one of the hottest "hot button" issues of our day, with particular resonances in our post-9/11 world, I honestly never really thought there was anything wrong with a woman choosing to cover her face, religious reasons or not.

I'll explain a little more about this, since paradoxically, I do not for one minute approve of the wearing of the veil. But note, this is a serio-comedic blogpost, in my usual vein, so please do not think you are in for some kind of lecture about Victoria's View Of The World, Part One: She Speaks!. You have quite enough on the sidebar, to keep you reading about that, for a long time.

Thirdly, and perhaps most damning of my three admissions, is the mere fact that Islam and its many adherents simply have never held my attention enough, to have an opinion.

I am an unrepetant, happy Europeanist, in my chosen field of History.

Simply put, whilst there are any number of British Arabists...whilst my country has produced champions of foreign cultures from Lawrence of Arabia to Byzantine-and-Turkish expert, Steven Runciman, to a virtual gaggle of influential Sino historians, who pour over Chinese tracts as a monk would practise his daily Offices...and yes, even whilst we British have always had a preternatural fascination with the world beyond our drizzly shores (remember that line when you hear of our avowed insular reputation), I have never been so enraptured by the particular religion that is Islam, and its practitioners, as to warrant more than a cursory study of the topic.

Of course, my standards of scholarship are high.

"Cursory" to this born-bluestocking, might be "walking encyclopaedia" for your average person, though I doubt it. I've always thought this put down of "average person", to imply someone undereducated, to be ludicrous. Just ask Magnus Magnusson.

Let's just say that I know the history of Islam, its major political figures and their byplays on geopolitics of their time, and at Oxford, have studied passages from the Koran and the hadith, cobbling all of this together with my experiences in my many travels.

(As an aside, though I balked at using Turin for Torino during the recent Olympics, preferring to say Torino since Turin sounded ridiculous to my ear in context, I have no qualms about asserting English linguistics regarding Koran/Qu'ran, Moslem/Muslim, anymore than the French wring their hands about saying Pekin for Beijing. Only politically correct boobs need worry about such arbitrary silliness. But ever the inconsistent one, I prefer Muslim to Moslem, and thus will use that throughout this piece. If it irritates you, tough)

With all of this as preface, and perhaps, half-embarrassed explanation, I choose to address the question of the wearing of the Veil as a blogpost, at long last.

You might wonder, what exactly forced the issue, so to speak.

Well, it was when I read this blogpost called, "Why Blair is wrong about the veil".

In a diverse and broadly secular country like Britain, religion in the classroom is an inappropriate hangover from earlier days when Christianity was an essential part of national identity. It obviously isn’t now.

Before this last sentence in the post, the author wrote in detail about his opinions on the wearing of the veil, couching them through his background as an ex-punk (albeit, a student one, not a bona fide punkee), whose outlandish dress he wore fully INTENDING to offend polite society.

That was the whole bloody point!, he squeals in nostalgic delight.

But as you can read, the author's final dictum in favour of the wearing of the veil -- and thus, contradicting Tony Blair's famous line of the veil being a "mark of separation" in British society -- has a lot more to do with distaste about religion, than with sympathies for outré behaviour.

What is permissible in adults, he feels, should be less so with children, especially in the State sphere of school.

A heady opinion to hold, indeed, for a self-described ex-student punk.

Still, despite this glaring inconsistency in philosophy, which however I do hope he realises and concedes as being a mite hypocritical, everyone is allowed to challenge one's views, as one grows from child to man. Or indeed, woman.

And this last word brings us to the point of the topic -- the wearing of the Veil is, by force, a topic solely of Islamic womanhood.

I am not Muslim, but I am a woman, and as such, I can put myself in any woman's position if she decides to don a head or body-covering in public, for whatever reason.

As such, I can fully understand the feelings of alienation, almost of mental breakdown, that this young Muslim Brit felt, when she experimented one day in wearing the niqab in public, to see how she would feel, not having been her family's custom so to do.

I'll let her words speak for her:

Things don't get much better at the National Portrait Gallery. I suppose I was half expecting the cultured crowd to be too polite to stare. But I might as well be one of the exhibits. As I float from room to room, like some apparition, I ask myself if wearing orthodox garments forces me to adopt more orthodox views. I look at paintings of Queen Anne and Mary II. They are in extravagant ermines and taffetas and their ample bosoms are on display.

I look at David Hockney's famous painting of Celia Birtwell, who is modestly dressed from head to toe. And all I can think is that if all women wore the niqab how sad and strange this place would be. I cannot even bear to look at my own shadow. Vain as it may sound, I miss seeing my own face, my own shape. I miss myself. Yet at the same time I feel completely naked.

In short, she felt like a freak.

(I have to say here, perhaps unsympathetically to those reading this, that her feelings of freakdom are precisely what very tall women feel, or those who are born royal or famous, or any number of other people who stand out in any crowd.

That it doesn't occur to people that others feel themselves to be as microscopic a material, every bit as niqab-wearing women, has a lot to do with feelings which always revert to their self-aware religiosity, and their victimhood in this post-9/11 world.

Oh to be sure, I do not for one moment deny that there are any number of racist people in Britain, and they single out for abuse, Muslims, every day, but the REASONS for it, are not as cut-and-dried as Muslims would think. Bear with me, I will explain further, below)

It's curious to imagine the opposing reactions of two British citizens, about the one and the same behaviour, based on uniqueness of dress.

The first person wore his punkhood proudly, defiantly, flouting convention, and in fact, secretly hoping to be given odd little stares of disapproval, no doubt to cluck all too publicly about societies' conservative hangups.

The second person does not wear her religious garb willingly, but as an experiment, it is true -- but instead of imagining how it would be to WANT to wear a niqab, as so many of her fellow Muslims do, all that comes to her mind is that she is made less woman by the covering, and therefore, less human.

Not for one second does it occur to her, at least not in her Guardian piece, that the punk's attitude then, is a devout young British Muslim's attitude NOW about wearing the niqab in public, although not exclusively:

Why, they are practically SPOILING for a fight about their clothes!

They WANT to have the upper-hand on society, by pointing out just how intolerant, how racist, how mean-spirited the average person is, when confronted with "otherness".

Otherness which for them, of course, means authenticity, and therefore, is a kind of social superiority, worn like a badge of courage for all to see.

Every insult, every little sly look turned quickly away, every smirk and every fingerpoint becomes yet another way of damning their society around them.

Thus, the attitude the marginalised always have had towards oppressive condemnation, which is as old as man, that of slinking degradation, is turned on its head.

Victim no longer, now they are victors in the game of societal norms!

And when you have the upper-hand, you are neither ignored, and in fact, can direct and control the topic, by preying on guilty consciences (myself and millions of others', included).

I have two make two observations, which seem almost obvious, as to be mentioned. They are important though.

The British are by cultural force, a nation of eccentrics.

Nothing pleases us more than to tweak peoples' noses, to show them up as fuddy-duddies, not only because in doing so, you reinforce that you yourself are not such a fuddy-duddy, but because (really and truly, I'm not just speaking out of John Bull pride) we treasure the unique, and revere the silly.

But though we may like our tea strong, we know that having it sweet at the same time, is excessive.

That is the greatest failing of the British character -- and its utter bloody salvation:

We loathe extremists. Moderation is our only true Bible, and humour, our hymnal.

Eccentricity hurts no one, and even better, provides free and torrential amounts of entertainment for society: a blessing, as we all know how cheap and grumpy the British can be.

Eccentricity for us, is not extreme, because of our delight in making fun of ourselves, as much as the other (but we hardly become shrinking violets, if we can only make fun of others). If you can't take yourself seriously, then surely, it follows you won't take others over-seriously, either.

And this is what the modern attitude refuses to approve about extremists, which is so at odds with the British character.

Section I of the UN Charter must surely read, "We, The Citizens of the World, Resolve Never To Deride Anyone For Anything At Anytime. Full Stop. And We Mean It. Seriously. We're Taking Names."

Politeness disapproves of making comments of anything approaching a personal nature.

Whereas Spanish priests enjoined their young not to touch themselves at night, we British were enjoined by our nannies, our parents and grandparents, and later schoolteachers NEVER EVER to make reference to someone's appearance, because this is the height of rudeness.

But if you do so, at least make it witty.

How, then, can one approach this scene,

...and NOT make fun of how incongruous burkha-wearing rugby players look?

And since we're on the topic, this applies to these Bolivian polleras playing soccer (I'm only sorry I was unable to find one of them wearing their bowler hats. Nice skirts, though)...

...and just to show you there's no fly in my ointment, this is beyond ludicrous.

So you see, having to stare at a woman wearing a niqab in public, during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, and having to suppress a throaty chuckle, is an imposition on the British character.

What makes everything particularly galling, is that we know we are NO WHERE close to being at that time when we can all have a good laugh, like we can at this Braemar Games "athlete", and just accept its incongruous lack of modernity for what it is, and go have a nice cup of tea together. Vivre et laissez vivre, und so weiter, and all that.

Oh no, we're millenia away from that time with Islamic peoples, not just in their countries, but worse, in our SHARED countries, where we all live either by force of exile or lack of genetic imagination.

This really irritates me no end. Fortunately, I don't resent it, but I feel I could, AND THAT makes me even more irritated!

In no time at all, I could transform myself from amused spectator, to one of those tiresome extremists who wear their outrage on their sleeves, ready to whip out their Coda of Acceptable Politically Correct Behaviour, at a moment's notice.

I am limiting my observations to Britain, because it's what I know best, but I suspect many people around the world share my exasperation.

The French obsession with their laïque precepts at odds with religiosity; German dogmatism and love of correcting civilised temperatures vis-à-vis clothing; the Italian love of arguing the finer points of that which others consider untouchable; the Finnish ability to text-message Lévy-Strauss and Max Weber on their mobiles.

All of these and more, contribute to a sense of -- when will Muslims understand, it's not always about your religion...

But sometimes about your humourless self-absorption?

Even the fact that this poor girl that I mentioned, was insistent on making it known that those who gave her the worst stinkeye, were Muslims themselves (her piece is entitled, 'Even other Muslims turn and look at me'), is STILL approaching everything as a humourless, self-absorbed person would.

Maybe she reaked of bad perfume, wore last year's fashions in niqabs, or maybe she was wearing white high-tops after Labour Day, who knows!

At least, presume there is that possibility.

Don't just go for the old chestnut, they hate me because I am an observant Muslim.

Very well, let's assume she was right, for the sake of prolonging my blogpost.

She was wearing a niqab in public, in Britain, all she encountered everywhere, was suspicion, laced with hatred, sprinkled with ridicule.


No, don't make the mistake the first blogger made, and leapfrog over all the other reasons, over to why "Religion is Awful, And We Should Abolish It, Then We Wouldn't Have These Problems."

As sure as I am sitting here, we would have these problems, with or without religion. Look at Soviet Russia. Heck, God was streng verboten in their country for over 75 years, and still they managed to have problems.

No, sir. If you can't give original, non knee-jerk liberal responses, at least give me original reasons not approved by the Comintern or local council, which often amounts to the same thing.

As a wise woman once said, "Give me a good reason to buy ice-cream in winter, and I will."

I only said that once, though.

Meanwhile, as you ponder your reasons, I will restate mine. They are called, officially, the 3 "E"s.



  • This is the worst of the lot, by far. We can work with excess and we can reason with eccentricity, but we are practically impotent in front of extremism.

    The wearing of the veil reminds people of the MODERN extremes of Islam as opposed to the vanquished extremes of Christianity. It's no good Muslims pointing out that they are being judged by the folly of a few, or that most Muslims don't wear the hijab and its variants, let alone condone terrorism.

    It's enough that many do, and though you protest, your voice carries no weight with them. On the contrary, being an apostate, you will be singled out and possibly killed.

    If you try to make this argument, we will argue back that the worst parts of our Christian religions have long since been defanged. Sure, it's a recent occurence, and in the past, we were as bad as your extremism today.

    But that's the past, unless you want to argue with progress, and I warn you, progress is a good debater so you don't stand a good chance of winning that argument.

    There are any number of Imams, Ayatollahs, and other learned Islamic scholars and quasi-religious leaders who use Islam to do their dirty work, who enjoin your coreligionists to carry out blasphemes against their peaceful faith, for you to look weak in arguing the contrary.

    If my Pope, whom I adore, and respect, were to tell me to pack explosives around my body, and kill Muslims everywhere, I would (rhetorically, you understand), spit in his eye, and call him a false man of God. Other Catholics would trample over me, in their rush to do the same.

    He would be discredited instantly, and possibly have to retire, though we may keep him around for touristic reasons.

    Ditto for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Stockholm, Monsignor This, Cardinal That. Even the nuns wouldn't escape censure.

    Having mentioned the nuns, I am reminded of having been paddled when young. Yes, even today, children are paddled all over the world, because they spoke a bad word in class, or did their sums wrong.

    But by and large, corporal punishment is at a discount in the West. The gibbet, the noose, Iron Maiden.

    All these instruments of grisly torture clearly belong to a different world.

    But in your more observant Islamic societies, hands are still cut off for theft, you are flogged, hanged, and beheaded for any number of Sharia-approved reasons. Worse, the possibility exists in Islam, that though the more "modern" Muslim countries don't do this at all, they could later on, like Iran.

    No Christian country could bring back being drawn and quartered by horse, by fiat of the government. NO ONE. If they did, they would be tried for crimes against humanity. Not being in favour of capital punishment, please do not rebut my point with that argument. You'll get no traction with me.

    To sum up, you have too many extremists, even in relation to your vast numbers of peaceful people. We don't, and that makes you scary.

    Forcing women to wear veils in some countries, doesn't make better the freedom of choice of doing so in others, even during social experiments.

    I am not sure how this will change, but if I could give you a word of advice, religion/Islam isn't the problem. The problem is culture. Tackle that, and you will be on your way to a justly wonderful religion, where official indifference, not submission or dhimmi "tolerance" is the rule.

    If you plan to retool the world to your own specifications, you will have to blow us all up into smithereens, and start all over again.

    And well, if you want that, you're an extremist. Nuff said.


  • Unless you haven't noticed, the modern world was forged by the West. It's a toughie, I know, but there you are.

    And modernity likes LESS clothing, not more.

    Everywhere you turn, in every decade, we in the West have been reducing our clothing coil.

    From bustles, to corsets, to gloves, finally to the wearing of hats, and yes, even of scarves in certain countries (like wherever the Muslims settled, as in Malta, Romania, and Spain...), we are throwing off our constraints, and going commando.

    Meanwhile, there you are. With your head-to-foot covering, even if that means a pair of trousers, and an Hermès headscarf.

    Why, the whole concept of the niqab is at odds with modernity, for the mere fact that there is nothing wrong, wicked nor beast-inducing about the female form, except in the minds of fevered men (which I concede is about 99.3% of them).

    But though it is true that we run the risk of rape by wearing next to nothing in public, that it DOESN'T HAPPEN as often, or as much as you presumably think it would, is enough to make us wonder why you think it would.

    Is it that you do not trust yourselves? That a woman is a mere object of lust, and not an human being selling herself to the nearest Girls Gone Wild producer, BUT, of her own accord for some more Jello shots?

    You think our Old Testament didn't counsel us to dress modestly, either? Of course, it did! And some do.

    But that's their choice, even though it came from the word of God Himself (allegedly, although I do believe it, but then I believe anything).


  • In your case, it's eccentricity of dress based on what I wrote above...not the wearing of funny hats during Christmas dinner, like we do in Britain.

    Eccentrics in dress must be willing to face down giggles, and they know this.

    Hassidic Jews in the West know this. The Amish in Pennsylvania know this. The Queen knows this.

    Look, the niqab is not something people can ignore, and therefore it stands out as an eccentricity of dress in the West. For you to cloak yourselves, pun intended, in a religious fervour to mask this fact, counts against you in our eyes.

    If you make the suggestion that your dress should be honoured just like a kilt is tolerated, I say, no.

    Here are the equivalents, if that were the case.

    This is how a German kid would come dressed to school.

    Or a Chinese kid (cue not optional either).

    Or how about a Dutch girl.

    OF COURSE we're going to laugh at the thought of a girl in Dutch wimple and clogs stepping out to do her shopping or visit a museum.

    And if you think we won't do the same because of your niqab, I just have one thing left to say:

    Get over yourselves.

    P.S.: To be serious for a moment, here is a recent case of a Muslim woman who sued the State of Florida for not allowing her to wear a niqab on her Florida drivers licence.

    In the beginning of this blogpost, I stated that à priori, I had no objections to the wearing of the veil, and indeed, despite my dismissive tone, I don't. You think I've never had a friend in Britain who wore one? Of course, I did.

    It's not that, which gets me, but occasions like this, of the intolerance of forced tolerance.

    The verdict, for those interested:

    "Although the court acknowledges that plaintiff herself most likely poses no threat to national security, there likely are people who would be willing to use a ruling permitting the wearing of full-face cloaks in driver's license photos by pretending to ascribe to religious beliefs in order to carry out activities that would threaten lives," Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe said in her ruling."

    Note, it was a lady judge. Floridians are no fools, even if we do misplace children now and then.

    I believe the Muslim lady's husband said he would countersue, but since I haven't heard much about it, I think his suit was thrown out.

    By the way, the CNN article (uncharacteristically) tartly points out the following:

    Saudi Arabia: Women aren't allowed to drive
    Iran: Women wear a traditional chador, which does not cover the face.
    Egypt: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    United Arab Emirates: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    Oman: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    Kuwait: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    Qatar: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    Bahrain: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
    Jordan: Women can drive if their faces are covered but do not cover their face in I.D. pictures

    The upshot is quite palpable.

    Why are you asking us to tolerate something which is not even the custom in your countries of origin? Based on...your religion? An excuse which doesn't even apply to countries where your religions are practised??

    Here's a conundrum for you:

    You want to keep your face covered for an IDENTITY CARD.

    What's wrong with this picture?

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    • I remember an old National Lampoon cover with a piece of faux WWII propaganda on it. It shows the Axis leaders scampering away from a giant American who's about to throw a cream pie at the group of them. The caption read: "We Know We'll Win! -- Because They Can't Take a Joke!!!"

      This again excellent post reminds of this as we engage in the struggle with PC proscriptions...

      By Blogger Ron, at Mon Mar 19, 07:51:00 am GMT-4  

    • I truly enjoyed this post and have printed it to ponder throughout my day. If I can come up with some clever reparte I shall post again. In the meantime, thank you once again for brilliant insight as well as some much needed humour. You are so correct in the inability to find it in themselves, except for the Egyptians. Never have I known a group of Muslims that can find humour in their offbeat antics as they.

      By Blogger Caroline, at Mon Mar 19, 10:23:00 am GMT-4  

    • First I'd like to say I find it interesting that you made this comments so soon after former Dr Who, Colin Baker, penned a simmilar missive in his op-ed collumn in "Bucks Free Press."

      Next I'd like to recommend reading the book "The Politiaclly Incorrect Guide to Islam," by Robert Spencer ISBN 0-89526-013-1. It is a very interesting read that point by point refutes most of the current "western politically correct" "WISDOM" regarding Islam.

      Those points aside I will admit that my actual knowledge of what is written in the Koran is limited, I tried to read the Penguin translation (don't recall the author), but was stymied by my near complete inability to read and digest works of poetry. Was forced to read "Western" poetic classics by Homer, Shakespear and Milton and failed miserably, too. So I won't blame it on the content.

      Additionally, although I have never been to the Middle East, I have traveled somewhat extensively in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a larger Islamic population that the ENTIRE Middle East, Malaysia is also heavily Muslim and Brunei is a bloody SULTANATE. This occured in the mid-late '90s not post 9-11, but I found the people there entirely normal, well adjusted and despite the dirt poor conditions for the majority in the first two nations happy. I was recently in Kemalpassa, Turkey and again the portion of the population that I saw were socially well adjusted by "western" standards.

      I do agree completely with your thre "E"s. Extremism in all its ugly forms is the worst and most evil of all the "ism"s.

      By Blogger conv442, at Mon Mar 19, 08:06:00 pm GMT-4  

    • Ron, Caroline, Conv442, if you will permit me, I will answer your questions on Tuesday.

      Composing a nothing post just now, took me about an hour...my mind is just a jumble.

      See you soon!

      By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Mar 19, 10:58:00 pm GMT-4  

    • As my mother used to say to me when I was sick, "Here's a hug and a kiss to get better on!"

      Feel better soon!

      By Blogger Ron, at Mon Mar 19, 11:23:00 pm GMT-4  

    • Perhaps some other Muslims were staring at her because she was unescorted by a male sibling. It's possible.

      I also theorize that conservative naqib wearers "speed walk" everywhere to avoid all interaction with others. It is like the modern geishas of Japan, they move very swiftly to evade tourists and such.

      By Blogger Alcibiades, at Tue Mar 20, 12:00:00 am GMT-4  

    • "To sum up, you have too many extremists, even in relation to your vast numbers of peaceful people. We don't, and that makes you scary." ~ And that's the very basis of the West's 'fear' of Islam. Well said!

      As for the eccentricity of the Brits, what other culture could have produced John Cleese, not to mention the entire Monty Python clan, or the Goon Show? That eccentricity, and ability to laugh at one's own pretensions, sets true western society apart from the rest of the world (I would include the Japanes as a part of the West, these days). I think the fact that the West in fact won the initial race for cultural supremacy allowed us to free ourselves from such strait-jacketed, lock-step behavioral norms as the veil. The inability to 'lighten up', or accept the frailties of others, seems to be not only a symptom of Moslem ills, but a symptom of the Left, too. Thus they remain as humorless and unaccepting of any step out of the path of their imposed orthodoxy as do the Moslems.

      We can laugh at the kilt, but we may also know that it was once a real garment, worn by real men. Giggles at men in lederhosen is obvious, though they were once considered every-day wear in some places.

      But the veil, the burqa, appear to us as a primitive statement, by a primitive culture, unwilling to accept western mores while demanding western freedoms and benefits.

      Exciting post, Vicks! Well done! I'm impressed as all get-out with this one! Good on ye'!

      By Blogger benning, at Wed Mar 21, 07:11:00 am GMT-4  

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