Thursday, October 26, 2006

Veiled Threats

The blessed month of Ramadan is now over all too quickly as usual. It does seem that every year that it slips by faster than the last one and one hopes that you live to see another one. With Eid now celebrated (with the now customary moon sighting dispute) it seems appropriate to reflect over some of the hysterical media reporting that blighted last month's spiritual exercises.

From stories about policemen not guarding embassies, cabbies not letting guide dogs in vehicles, pharmacists not dispensing pills, teachers wearing veils, Muslims against the Olympics (apparently it will clash with Ramadan!), potential race riots (thanks Trevor), university lecturers to spy on Asian looking students, prison officers to spy on Asian/African/convert prisoners, 'hot-spots' identified by Ruth Kelly all topped of by the a Pope's speech, you wonder why some people are beginning to feel a little victimised. And that’s just some of the negative news stories I picked up on.

It's not that Muslims should not be open to sincere debate but the vitriolic nature of unbalanced (and uninformed) editorial opinion pieces, hours and hours of phone-in radio programmes and the pandering to the basest instincts of human nature can only, at the very least have a severe polarising effect. At worst, political acquiescence to some these views has given them a credence not previously enjoyed and released expressions of bigotry and hate which are entering the public discourse as being perfectly acceptable to be held by rational and reasonable people. Sadly this has already led to increasing incidences of verbal and physical assaults on Muslims.

The issue that seems to have dominated the majority of air waves and news print and exorcised angst is over the veil. This is only worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women in the UK but has been picked out as amongst other things a symbol of male subjugation of women, a throw back to pre-medieval society, a slap in the face for a generation of bra-burning feminists or political expression of a pro-terrorist agenda (the latter view seriously espoused by Melanie Phillips on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze).

What is glossed over is that it is actually overwhelmingly a personal choice for these women who see this as essentially a religious observance and mark of their piety. Islamic edicts differ in opinion on whether the veil is obligatory or merely permissible (unlike the hijab which is considered obligatory by all orthodox schools of thought). So although it is not viewed as compulsory (from a religious perspective), the fact that women choose to wear this is mainly a demonstration of free will.

Now whether you approve or not is not really an issue. I may not like tattoos, facial piercing, blue hair or inappropriate exposure of flesh but if people choose to express themselves in this way so be it. With these choices do, I acknowledge come consequences, some of which will include limitations in the way you can interact with society in general. Given that over 60% of women in general are not economically active anyway, why should the choice of a minute number of women to wear the veil and not ‘fully participate’ in society matter so much?


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