L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

06 October 2006 Blog Home : October 2006 : Permalink

The Veil / Head Scarf Thing

As many of my UK readers are aware Jack Straw has been a little insensitive according to the usual suspects. Harry's Place has links to the Grauniad's reprint of Mr Straw's column, its own sensible comments and the overblown "Comment is Free" response by someone who, according to her Grauniad profile, is very keen on head scarves and palestinians. The HP post makes the sensible point that:

[...] if he's trying to curb anything, it's how people dress in his office, which he's entitled to do. Choosing how you dress in Jack Straw's office isn't really a basic freedom, is it?

Meanwhile the CiF column has one of the best responses ever from someone who identifies as a british Muslim lady:

I'm a British Muslim female, and while I don't like Jack Straw, I think his argument and be summed up as such:

You wouldn't throw a barbecue in downtown Jeddah serving a big fat roast pig.

Fact is, regardless of who you are and what you believe, you have to integrate when you move to another country, otherwise you will offend your hosts and do yourself no favours. He isn't calling for the abolition of veils, I think his request is perfectly reasonable.

I note that the CiF column contains a couple of odd sentences that are worth highlighting for their contradictory nature:

On the point of community relations, the face veil is worn by millions of women around the world and their societies function perfectly well and they are able to conduct their daily affairs without any problems. Though their communities don't have the same freedoms as we have in Britain, I do not buy Mr Straw's argument that they have less social cohesion because of the face veil.

The face veil is worn by Arabian women (primarily Saudi Arabia) as well as women in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is not worn, as far as I know, anywhere else. I wouldn't class the socities of any of these countries as ones that "function perfectly well [where women] are able to conduct their daily affairs without any problems". In fact I'd call all of them dysfucntional oppressive intolerant societies and in the case of Saudia Arabia the statement that women can conduct their daily affairs without problems is a joke - women can't do anything outside their home without a male relative in attendance. This is then tacitly admitted by the second statement which denies that this has anything to do with the veil. I agree, and I doubt Mr Straw disagees either, because the veil is not a cause of a lack of social cohesion etc. etc. but a visible indicator of the dysfunctional non-cohesive nature of the society.

I see no reason to waste any more time on the senseless column of outrage, however although I have to say that trawling CiF replies tends to be a depressing task, I'm surprised by the generally sane comments on offer in this case. Another good one, immediately below the one I quoted above, says in part:

The hijab, I don't have a problem with at all. The veil, however...hmm. One estimate from a UCLA study is that 93% of communication is non-verbal. I think we can all agree that most of that non-verbal communication must be cut off if a woman is wearing what is effectively a tent.

And these questions are indeed sensible ones that the more extreme Muslims need to answer:

Three questions for Ms Akhtar and her supporters:

1. Jack Straw has said that covering the face is "a visible statement of separation and of difference." Is this or is this not true? Whether such a statement is a good or bad thing is not the point. Is covering the face such a statement. If not, what is it?

2. Ms Akhtar says that Straw "has abused his position of power when making the request" for women to remove the niqab. When Muslim imams, fathers, husbands and brothers suggest that it may be better for their womenfolk to wear the niqab, are they abusing their own positions of power within the community and/or family group? If not, why not?

3. If someone came into Straw's surgery wearing a T-shirt bearing a racist or anti-Muslim slogan, should he ask them to remove it? If so, why?

Although we know the answer to 3 - insulting Islam is so bad that the wearer of the T Shirt should be beheaded

(from Michelle's post on the subject)

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin