« 84 Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff | Main | That'll teach me for having no faith in myself... »

October 08, 2006

Sorry - More Fuel to the Jack Straw Debate

I can't help it. I really wanted to stay out of the Jack Straw Deputy Leader Anyone? Veiling debate, because it seems to me that the debate has been claimed by the most extreme few on both sides of the coin and as always, with a little help from the media, the whole thing gets blown out of all proportion. (If you haven't already, start here and follow the links)

Of course Jack Straw only said that he'd prefer Muslim women to uncover their face; at absolutely no point did he ever say that he'd refuse to speak to any woman wearing the veil. In what follows I am not pointing the finger at Jack Straw personally; it is just something I've noticed in many responses during any question relating to the Veiled Woman.

What niggles me about the whole debate, and it was the same when The West apparently 'liberated' Afghanistan, is that slightly patronising attitude that all a non-Muslim has to do is approach a Muslim woman and say 'It's OK I'm in charge now and I say you can lift your veil,' and she will heave a sigh of relief, throw back her cloth and express eternal gratitude.

What we need to consider is that there are many reasons why a woman might cover up, of which enforcement plays only a small part. There are several cases where a young woman chooses to wear a niqab when the rest of her family remain uncovered. In addition there are those for whom it is a long-held tradition going back through generations. Either way I think that debates as to whether the Koran says you must or must not cover up are verging on the irrelevant.

Bearing this in mind, what exactly are we asking a Muslim woman to do when we ask her to remove her veil? I would argue that it is nothing like asking her to remove a baseball cap, or a crucifix (as has been suggested) but more like a foreigner storming into our country and saying that we are all free to walk around naked. I for one, believe that we should be free to strip down in public if we so wish, but I very much doubt that I would do so, if the law allowed.

You may snigger at my analogy but imagine you had roused the courage to speak to your MP about a pressing local issue, imagine you walked in there in a pair of baggy combats and an old sweatshirt and he said, 'I could communicate with you better if I could see the outline of your body - how about a pair of tight jeans and a crop top?' Creepy, no?

Since when has viewing the mouth and nose been so essential to communication anyway? Speaking to a niqab wearer always reminds me how much can be conveyed by the eyes alone. At this point I'm reminded of Bruce Parry's Tribe series whereby he lived amongst communities that were so far removed from his own and yet he still managed to bridge huge lingual and cultural divides.

What about us? Well if we cannot reach across a small flimsy piece of fabric in order to communicate with our next door neighbour, then I'm seriously concerned for our multicultural future.

Posted by purple elephant at October 8, 2006 11:40 AM