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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Veiled Threats

Recently,there has been a lot on television and in the newspapers about the wearing of the 'niqab' or Muslim veil. This is the type of veil that covers most of the face -- sometimes the eyes and the forehead are not covered, though most of the women I have seen wearing the niqab show only their eyes.

Some countries, including France, have banned the wearing of this veil in public places. This has lead to certain groups of making threats of violence against those countries. In Britain I have been surprised at the number of people -- at least those shown on television -- both members of the debate forums and those in the audience -- who believe that if women want to wear the veil they should be allowed to wear it. The people I am talking about are what some would call 'real British people' meaning 'white' and Anglo-Saxon.

Personally, my instinct when I see women attired in black Muslim dress and completely covered from head to toe is to recoil. But then I am pretty much a feminist and for me it goes against too much of what I believe women have had to fight against, have had to endure to gain their rightful place -- at least in western culture. And I wonder why those who would wear such a garment would choose to live in our world. Of course, many times the answer is that these are British women, born and bred who have fallen in love with a Muslim man and converted to his faith and so chosen this path. And so they are participating in their democratic right as a British citizen. The point being that it isn't always foreigners who make this choice. I do not have a problem with head scarves, or with the burqa -- if women choose that form of attire, far be it for me to object to that.

The authorities are now in a quandary about how to handle the questions that arise from this 'right'. A woman has been told that when she testifies before a jury she must uncover her face so that the jurors can see her when she testifies. Another woman was told that she could not teach her children with a veil covering her face -- she lost her job.

One woman wrote about wearing the full Muslim dress, that is the burqa and the full veil, to work and abandoned the idea because co-workers avoided her. This, is the crux of the matter for me. For me it represents a wish to 'separate' oneself from our culture -- more than anything else we judge others by how we see their faces. For all you know, as I am sitting here, I could be wearing a burqa and veil but because my 'veil' is the Internet, it is perfectly acceptable -- but 'face-to-face', in our culture,  we want to see for ourselves -- the voice is not enough.

The judge decided that the jury had a right to see a woman's face because it was necessary in order to make a fair judgement. But it has occurred to me that if this woman had worn a veil all her life would taking it off place her at a disadvantage because she did not have the experience of being so exposed to people. But then if you live in a foreign culture, sometimes you just have to go with the flow...

There could also be arguments that this form of dress holds security risks -- how do you really know it's a woman hidden beneath that garb and not some wicked man!

23 comments:

  1. The problem is, of course, that if a Muslim man sees any part of a woman at all he becomes so sexually aroused that he can not control himself...and they call us immoral!

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    1. Sometimes, though, Joeh, I look at how western women dress and think they could do with the cover-up -- and not necessarily because anyone would be aroused!!

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  2. My opinion tends to vasilate
    I am still uncertain what I actually feel about the veil

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  3. I believe any woman who wants to subject herself to this mode is entitled. I believe it is perfectly acceptable to present oneself to a foreign world this way. I believe if the niqab, or any part of the costume interferes with participating in the adopted society, choices must be made by the person under the veil. Participate or retreat. No whining.

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  4. Once while eating at a restaurant at JFK Airport I noticed an Arab family seated at the table next to mine--- a man, his wife and two little boys. They were all eating fried chicken. Have you ever seen a woman covered from head to toe trying to eat chicken? Of course the man and boys were in western clothing and had no trouble at all.

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    1. Honestly, I wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry...

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  5. I have a hard time understanding why any woman would cover herself like that, but then again, I wasn't raised that way. It seems like it would be so difficult to maneuver!

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    1. I also have a hard time 'understanding' -- but I am trying to see the other point of view (I had to stop myself from writing 'what's behind it all'!)

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  6. My tendency is to question why we want to tell people how to dress. It's like male politicians making family planning rules for women, as if women didn't know how to manage their lives. We're having a problem with this whole thing about how to dress in Quebec, one of Canada's provinces. Are people so insecure in themselves that they have to make others dress a certain way before they can feel safe?

    Blessings and Bear hugs.

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    1. You ask a very good question, Rob-bear -- it's the crux of the matter, I think...

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  7. The teacher who was sacked for wearing a veil was rightly sacked - one situation where you do not have to cover your face (as far as I understand) is amongst innocent children.

    Veils have only been insisted upon by Moslem men for about 100 years. Although modesty is a requirement for all people in most religions - including Christianity - I don't think there is anything in the Koran about covering your face.

    You are not allowed to enter a bank in this country whilst wearing a crash helmet or Mickey Mouse mask, so other than stop women from banking for themselves, I don't think they should be allowed to wear burkas in banks either.

    I think that people should be allowed to wear whatever they like, but I still feel outraged when I see fat men in Nike sports gear.

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    1. And white socks with sandals! Absolutely outrageous!

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  8. I think that many young and rebellious women like to wear a niqab simply because it does make people recoil and comment. Some may be forced, but others see it as a sign of strength. I agree with you that it makes its wearer seem separate and special but above all separate.

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    1. There was a very interesting article in yesterday's Times by a woman who wore the veil for a couple of days to try to see it from 'the other side of the veil'. Very interesting to read about how difficult and uncomfortable it has been for her -- both physically and mentally.

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  9. I'm of the school that says do whatever you want so long as it harms nobody else. In that regard, it takes a loose definition of "harm" sometimes. And I believe most religious practice takes the position that it is preferable to save someone else even if you have to die a little (I'm no expert on Islam, so I say that with a bit of a question.)

    Anyway, when we're talking about a court case that could affect someone else's life, definitely uncover your face. If you need to be identified because your identification can save others time and trouble, it is incumbent upon you to be ready to identify yourself. But nobody should ever feel the need to dress in a way that makes others comfortable at risk of your immortal soul. Of course, you have to be willing to suffer the consequences, too. If you choose to dress in an unconventional way, you have to expect unconventional treatment and learn to live with it. That's also part of the bargain, the societal compact, no?

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    1. I agree with you, Sully. I think banning it is more harmful to the democratic ideal than allowing it. But, as you say, consequences must be accepted...

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  10. Joanne summed up my attitude perfectly. I have no problem with an adult woman choosing to wear the niqab if she wants to, though I can't help thinking the all-enveloping burkha, with netting across the eyes, must make the outside world seem a very odd place to the wearer. What I do object to is the idea of women or girls being compelled to cover their faces in a Western society. Freedom of choice is the important thing.

    However that freedom of choice cannot go against the law of the land or the duty of a citizen, which is why the judge's decision and that of the school are important. It's a minefield....

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    1. "minefield" is a good word here...

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  11. Dear Broad, as Perpetua and you said, "this is a minefield." I haven't done any definitive thinking about this and obviously I need to. For eight years, I wore a habit and head gear that covered my head, but not my face. The religious/nun's habit evolved over time, but it began because the women who started the order/convents wore what was being worn by their culture. It was only as time passed that the habit because "odd" in society. Of course, the addition of rosary beads and crosses made a difference also.

    But as a woman in the United States where women have had to fight for rights that men assume to be only theirs, I so value the freedoms that I enjoy and I wonder if taking off the veil for Muslim women would represent the first letting go of belief. Would it be the hatchet that would cut through all the subjugation of women in the Muslim culture?

    I need to think a lot more about this. Thank you for getting me started. Peace.

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    1. I thought about what it was like for nuns in the old days with the old habits -- they were so like what we see today -- though I suspect the wimple and other parts of the habit were more constricting than the rather loose fitting burqa and niqab -- It is, indeed a conundrum to consider -- the liberation so many women have fought for versus the 'right' of women to be subjugated. Bizarre is the world sometimes!

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    2. I thought about what it was like for nuns in the old days with the old habits -- they were so like what we see today -- though I suspect the wimple and other parts of the habit were more constricting than the rather loose fitting burqa and niqab -- It is, indeed a conundrum to consider -- the liberation so many women have fought for versus the 'right' of women to be subjugated. Bizarre is the world sometimes!

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!