Our citizens behind the veil

ishr-burka1The use of the face veil is quite possibly one of the most depressing sights (Independent, Tuesday 17th Sept 2013).  The face veil symbolises the very essence of female subservience to the chauvinistic culture of monotheism.

Of course, in a liberal democracy the choice of headwear is a free choice for individuals.  However, the principle of democracy rests on open and free dialogue between informed citizenry.  To what extent can a choice truly be free and informed, if it is based on cruel familial and cultural pressure, enacted often against will and with force.

There are, however, rules and expectations placed upon citizens, such as participation in open Court and security protocols. These requirements necessitate an open face, and there should not be any religious or cultural opt-outs available.

Current responses to anxiety around face veils seems to be, unhelpfully, polarised.  To cultural reactionaries and right-wing propagandists, the face veil represents a fear of the future, a loss of values and identities.  The political left seems to have chosen to either remain mute, or attempt a vague and sinister form of cultural relativism.

To ban any form of dress, let alone that which is deemed to be ‘religious attire’, would be deeply controversial, and probably counter-productive.  Nothing swells the massive ranks of support like a well-played victim card.

Religiously segregated schools have contributed to Scotland’s shameful problem with sectarianism, it seems that face veils are another (semi-elective) form of the same segregation.

Birmingham College was right in taking its decisive action to ensure that all students are able to be open and visible, this is a solid bedrock from which cultural and religious understanding can flourish. Let alone a necessity for security.

However, in a shameful and embarrassing climb-down, the college has now withdrawn from its principles of equality in favour of appeasing the cultural relativists. Yet again we see the defeat of reason and logic at the hands of sinister religious threats.

Shared spaces of learning and information exchange are not the place to continue a bizarre experiment in religious segregation.

Jeremy Browne MP is wrong in his approach (Guardian 16 Sept 2013), there is no need for a ‘debate’ on veil wearing. The arbitrary discrimination towards women is wrong, no such debate can do anything but affirm it. Also, if women are so disenfranchised, how well does Mr Browne think they will be able to engage in such a debate?

Mr Browne is at least right about one thing, to attempt to ban items of clothing, would be to cede the principle of freedom.

The correct way to approach this divisive issue, is to build support and consensus for pro-social shared values. The war against the veil will be won by attrition and compassion, not by divisive politicking.

The face veil is a disgusting throw-back to a primitive attempt to subjectify women.  It manages to simultaneously insult men, who are portrayed as lacking any will-power whatsoever, and teetering on the point of rape at any moment.

The reason it provokes so much ill-feeling perhaps, is because of the willingness of its subjects to cast themselves into the social and cultural chains that it represents, similar to the morose, and now thankfully out-dated Indian practice of Sati.  As Richard Matheson said, it is the deepest curse of the flagellant, to grow inured even to the whip.

As to wither or not the face veil should be band in public spaces; sadly in many Islamic countries, women are missing altogether from the public space. Therefore, I think that any further such move could be very damaging for our society.

We should pity and show compassion to our citizens behind the veil. The cost of social segregation is high, and criminalisation can only add to this.

8 thoughts on “Our citizens behind the veil

  1. I wonder if you have even bothered to talk to a Muslim woman who wears niqab before? The Muslim women who wear niqab are a small percentage. What ‘security threat’ do they pose to these countries that are hindering upon religious freedom? The Muslim women who wear niqab do so of their own choice and because they believe it is commanded by God in Islam. Yes there is a small minority of women who may be forced to wear the niqab but the majority of the percentage who do wear niqab do so because they want to. To ask them to remove their veil or face a ‘citizenship test’, jail time or a fine is stupid and oppressing them from practicing their religion as they see fit. Your countries say that it is ‘oppressive’ for a Muslim woman to wear the hijab or the niqab but when you pass outright bans making it illegal to wear a piece of cloth over your face then you are doing what you ‘say’ the niqab does-oppressing the Muslim women who choose to wear it. Do these countries really think if they make niqab illegal in public that these Muslim women will willingly take it off? That’s a laugh! The Muslim women who wear niqab-to them taking off niqab isn’t something they would do because they would feel they are naked without it. They would rather die or sentence themselves to house arrest rather than remove the veil. A Muslim woman in niqab would have no issues lifting or removing her niqab for identification purposes in front of a woman only or removing it to give testimony in a court of law. What harm is it doing the rest of the countries if a small minority of practicing Muslims decide to wear the niqab of their own free will? Do these countries not have freedom of religion like in the United States? As an American Muslim convert I made the decision at 21 to begin wearing niqab and abaya. I also made the decision when I became Muslim at nineteen that I would wear hijab-I also knew hijab was required of all Muslim women and girls who have attained puberty (i.e. gotten their first menses). I feel sorry for Muslim women in so called “free” countries that have to deal with their religious rights being stamped on and their way of dress frowned upon by their societies/governments. It is sad that even in the USA depending on where niqab wearing Muslim women live they are also harassed and face persecution in a land that gives us freedom of religion. I hope that these ‘free’ governments will realize that not all Muslim women are oppressed as they would like to claim. Unless they interview all the Muslim women in their countries they will not know which ones are ‘oppressed’ and which ones are not.

    1. Indeed, I have spoken to a number of people who are Muslim about this. All with different thoughts on the issue.
      Many of the Muslim’s I know do not believe that the face veil is a requirement of their religion, and others do. Personally I couldn’t care less, I’m not religious, and it’s none of my business.
      I think I made it quite clear in the blog that I do not think a criminal ban on the face veil would be a useful move, so I’m not sure if you are arguing with me, or just expressing your views.
      I am strongly opposed to the veil, I think it is a disgusting symbol of oppression, and I hope that as feminism and democracy spreads throughout young people in the Middle East and beyond, they will leave it behind them.

      1. His question was, “I wonder if you have even bothered to talk to a Muslim woman who wears niqab before?” and your reply “Indeed, I have spoken to a number of people who are Muslim about this.”

        Whoever from amongst the muslims you spoke to, apparently don’t wear the veil so what they say / think regarding this issue does not matter.

        Speak to me, I’m right here and I am veiled woman. I wore the veil at 17 (before I got married) my muslims family was against me wearing it and despite that, I continued to wear it. I am 21 today and I don’t regret a single day of my life wearing the face veil. It was and IS my choice. I have had more adventures in life than most of the people who are “not oppressed”.

        ☑ Freedive to 25m in the middle of the ocean one a single breath
        ☑ Gallop on a horse
        ☑ Get stuck on a boat 30km of shore pass sunset
        ☑ Freedive with sharks
        ☑ Get lost in the desert at night time in pitch black darkness on a quad bike
        ☑ Be a kickboxing trainer
        ☑ Learn to ski in 10 minutes and come down a 400m slope on the first try
        ☑ River trek upstream for 4 hours
        ☑ Go for a night dive
        ☑ Do clap pushups
        ☑ Do fingertip pushups
        ☑ Do back bridges
        ☑ Do a split
        ☑ Do pull ups
        ☑ Do one-leggged squats
        ☑ Do a handstand pushup

        And the list goes on and I doubt it will end anytime soon.

        So seriously, the world needs to come up with fresher, logical and truthful arguments. The whole “Symbol of oppression” is an outdated and stale one.

        Anyone who wishes to communicate with me and ask me about my experiences and my life behind the veil, feel free.

  2. I’m just expressing my opinion on the matter. I apologize if I came off as harsh in my comment. I agree with you that democracy would be good for everyone and that women in third world countries and patriarchal societies need to throw off the chains of their cultures in order to become truly free.

  3. A very interesting thought provoking emotive topic and the response. I tend to agree that we should have the freedom to express ourselves, religious or otherwise – my only comment on something that ‘hides’ most of the face with the exception of a very small opening for the eyes is that one does not get the ‘feel’ or ‘connection’ with that person no matter their colour, creed or beliefs, as facial expression is vitally important in effective communication (research shows that only around 7% of effective communication is words, with around 38% being tone/pitch; but around 55% is visual – i.e. body and facial) so non-verbal is vital including seeing the facial expression. The most effective communicators have strong body language and facial expression which can reflect confidence, competence and charisma – so no matter who you are would you not want to be these three things? Just my ‘penny worth in the mix’.

  4. Our faces are an unalienable part of our identity as human beings. It’s hard to think of anything that characterises an individual as much as his or her face. Facial expression is fundamentally important for our communication.
    To render women faceless is to deprive them of their identity, their individuality and their ability to fully communicate and interact with the world around them.

    Article 3 in the Human Rights Act states that:
    “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

    The State needs to uphold this article in order to protect girls and women from the dehumanising and degrading treatment that a burka or niqab represent.

    Women should not be short-changed on their human rights for fear of angering a group of people who prefer to regard women as inferior to men and who wish to severely limit their range of action in society and keep them in a subservient “speak only when spoken to” position.

    In what way is a woman who has been conditioned to wear a burka or niqab since she was a little girl able to make a free choice about this?

    We cannot regulate what people wear in their homes and places of worship, but in the public space that we all share we must insist that every individual is recognised and recognisable as a human being.

    To render women faceless is to deprive them of their humanity.

    Veronica Wikman

    1. Well said – I particularly agree with the point on communication – facial expression is fundamental – thanks for the comment

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