Sunday, October 22, 2006

The veil debate - honesty would help.

A problem can never be solved without the essential first step being taken – identify the cause of the problem accurately & honestly. Something that's always interested me, not to say frustrated and angered me, is the inability or refusal of people to do that.

I’m intrigued by the expanding debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the veil. It's another perfect example of the crux of a problem being neither acknowledged nor addressed.

Sadly that rarely happens, which means not only that problems are not solved but also that they become worse to the point of crisis and very often violence.

This current furore over some Muslim women wearing the veil is a good example. It’s reached the point of hysteria in the UK, and inevitably the lunatic fringe, for and against, is out in force, ignoring and distorting the facts to push extreme agendas.

That's what happens if a problem isn't identified, then solved quickly. It starts to reach crisis point, and that's when the violence kicks in. Already the Daily Telegraph has reported a woman in the UK having her veil ripped off.

Distorted facts.

An example in the UK of the facts being distorted. There’s been huge publicity over the teacher at the centre of the storm, Aishah Azmi, teaching her class while wearing the veil, with huge criticism about the stupidity of such action. The fact is that she was not wearing the veil while teaching, she wore it only when in the company of adult male colleagues. That fact is not in dispute but is ignored by those pushing their own agenda. And of course those who are against the veil jump on the lie and spread it as a fact.

Communication impossible.

Secondly, the claim is being made that it is difficult or impossible to communicate with someone unless their face can be seen. This is no more than an excuse for the anti-veil forces, a red herring. It has nothing to do with the real reason they want the veil banned. It is both untrue and ludicrous.

Ludicrous? The examples that prove it is so are endless. We all communicate perfectly well every day with people we can’t see, on the telephone, from brief personal messages to highly complex business conversations. We understand perfectly what we hear on the radio. Pilots with air traffic control and base-to-patrol for emergency services or taxis communicate perfectly well through radio sound only.

David Blunkett was born blind yet has been an MP since 1987 and rose to several Ministerial positions. He has never been able to see the people he’s talking with, can’t see other MPs in the hurly-burly of the House of Commons, yet obviously can understand perfectly well what’s being said to him.

I watched the press conference held by Aishah Azmi. She was totally covered, sitting very still at a table. Yet all the assembled media understood every word she said. Not once was she asked to repeat or explain anything she said. I watched on television and I also understood every word she said.

A moment’s intelligent thought demonstrates it is simply not true that we have to see people to be able to understand them.

Let’s be honest.

Let's treat the extremist rantings with the disdain they deserve and ignore them. Let's talk about the majority, the mainstream.

I’m in the middle of an e-mail exchange on the subject with a friend in Australia, where the same debate is arising. As part of his argument against the wearing of the veil he recounted the story of being pulled over by a policeman and asked to produce his driving licence. He felt so intimidated and uncomfortable because the cop was wearing dark sunglasses which hid his eyes that my friend asked him to remove the glasses. He needed to see the cop’s full face, felt fearful because he couldn’t.

I have no problem talking to people wearing shades and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. But others obviously feel intimidated, even frightened, by them. The same obviously is true with women covering their face with a veil, some, perhaps many, people not used to it are intimidated or frightened by it.

The MP who started the debate in the UK, Jack Straw, said that he asked constituents wearing the veil when visiting his office to remove it. His reason? He told the BBC: “I just find it uncomfortable if I’m trying to have a conversation with someone whose face I can’t see.”

It’s no accident that SWAT teams, Tactical Response Groups, are dressed in black from head to foot, face covered by a balaklava, only the eyes visible. It’s deliberately intimidating.

A woman wearing the veil is also a figure covered from head to foot in black, face covered, only the eyes visible. A frightening sight to some.

And there’s the crux of the problem. Not that a woman is wearing a veil but that other people are frightened by the sight of her.

The strongest human emotion, fear; fear of the unknown fear of the unfamiliar, fear of anything different.

So the answer is perhaps less that the few women wearing the veil should be barred from doing so, but more that the people frightened by it need to be educated that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Note: This is not a comment for or against the veil. It is a comment about the refusal of people to acknowledge the real causes of problems.


halfmanhalfbeer said...

Seabee: good post, well thought out.

BTW Eid mubarak!


Seabee said...

Eid mubarak HMHB

trailingspouse said...

I remember on my first trip to Dubai in 1997. Sitting in Deira City Centre I watched a fully covered lady pushing a stroller with a toddler and thought how frightening it must be for the infant to look back at this figure in black. Nonsense, of course he was used to it, just as I am now.

The question is, how do you educate people to think differently? Arguments and lawsuits only stir up more hostility. I'd like to see someone speaking for the Muslim world who isn't a politician or a religious leader. What we need is a Muslim version of the Simpsons!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could run a poll on your blog, for and against the veil. It would be quite interesting.

nzm said...

Good post Seabee - a classic case of cause and effect.

Trailing Spouse: we once sat in the City Centre Food Hall and watched a group of young Arab boys being looked after by their nanny while their mothers shopped.

When their mothers returned - 5 women all dress in abayas and shaylas with only their eyes showing - these kids instantly ran straight to their mothers with no hesitation and no mistake. It was great to watch!

secretdubai said...

teaching, she wore it only when in the company of adult male colleagues.

I'm not sure this is right. From what I understand, she was a teaching assisant. This means that a regular teacher would normally be present. Some of these teachers were male. So she wanted to wear the veil in the classroom on these occasions:

"The school initially agreed she could wear the veil when a man was present, but the agreement broke down after three weeks when one of the male staff objected to her face being covered while teaching."

My honest feeling on this is that if she really wants to wear her veil, then she should be taking a job in a single gender workplace, or a workplace where face-to-face contact is not required. Certainly not a job where communication is paramount. It's important when learning a language that you see someone's face and lips. The fact that she didn't wear it at the interview was also, in my view, deliberately deceptive. She should have made a point at the interview that she would want to cover her face in front of adult males.

I'm also disturbed at politicians being censured for their comments. Britain is a democracy that enjoys freedom of speech. Politicians should be able to express their views.

I have zero sympathy for this woman, because I think she has made things a lot harder for muslim women in general. Particularly those who just wear the hijab, as now employers are likely to discriminate against them in job interviews for fear they'll suddenly don the hijab once they sign their contracts.

archer14 said...

Brilliant post, and i'm surprised that no one has given their true reaction on this.
I completely agree with SDs view on it, and I also feel that when one is in Rome, being Roman sure helps. No amount of explanation will help justify your stand on your personal choice.

Seabee said...

Maybe I should continue the theme with a post about the pros & cons of the veil in non-Muslim societies...but I fear it would soon degenerate into a foul-mouthed slanging match, as happened on your innocuous poem post SD.

Seabee said...

SD I totally agree with you about freedom of speach, but the politicians were not censured for their comments. The tribunal rebuked ministers for commenting while the issue was still sub judice. That's a very different thing of course.

The teacher and her legal team have stated clearly that she was not teaching while wearing the veil and that has not been challenged by 'the other side'.
Maybe there's more to come on that point.

secretdubai said...

The tribunal rebuked ministers for commenting while the issue was still sub judice.

Oh yes that is fair enough. That's something that greatly disturbs me here, with the information given out by police and printed in newspapers before hearings and trials, though I guess they don't have jury trials so it perhaps doesn't matter quite so much.

Tainted Female said...

Very, very thought provoking. I never looked at it that way, honestly.

**Also, when I read the word 'veil', I automatically think just the scarf around the hair (like the brides veil in a Christian wedding), and not the face covering... didn't really consider it's used for both.

Wonder how many other's think of it that way?

caz said...

Appropriate clothing at the appropriate time in the appropriate place. Full face coverings may be OK in the middle East, but not I suggest in banks post offices department stores etc in the western world. Entering post offices in Australia you are required to remove your full face helmet if you are wearing one, for obvious reasons. Burglars gangsters murderers etc often wear full face covering, they simply don't want to be recognised and they don't want their faces seen. It's not a question of fear, many in the western world find facing human beings with only their eyes showing embarrassing, just as much as those in middle eastern countries find skimply dresssed women embarassing.

There is a lot to be said for 'When in Rome etc'.

Would someone kindly enlighten this westerner with the translation of 'Eid Mubarak'

Seabee said...

caz, the post was about the real reason people in the West are raging against the veil. Whether it's appropriate, whether it qualifies along with full face helmets to be removed in Post Offices is another matter altogether. As an aside, in all the articles I've read you are the only one who's raised that point.

And by the way, equating the women wearing the veil with burglars, gangsters, murderers etc is as offensive as it is ridiculous.

I'm unmoved in my belief that it's fear, and certainly not embarrassment, that causes so much angst. If it was purely embarrassment people would look away and not react with the hysteria we're seeing.

Eid Mubarak is a greeting that can best be explained as similar to Merry Christmas. At the end of the holy month of Ramadan is the Eid al Fitr festival, which we have just celebrated. 'Mubarak' translates literally as 'congratulations'.

Seabee said...

Caz, in spite of giving thought to your comments I'm still bemused. You say my claim of fear is wrong, the truth is that many in the western world find facing human beings with only their eyes showing embarrassing.
Can you explain why or how any person, let alone 'many', could find it embarrassing. I can't think of a single reason why they could, would or should be embarrassed.

As for 'when in Rome', that old cliche is trotted out without thought by so many people. I'm always intrigued to know where the speaker wants the line drawn. In this instance, is it at wearing the veil? The robe and headscarf are OK, but not the veil? That isn't 'as the Romans do'. Is it that they must wear full Western dress? In which case does that also apply to the turban, sari and all other national/religious dress? Do Westerners living in, say, Pakistan, then also have to abide by 'when in Rome' and wear the shalwar kameez?

Anonymous said...

As a woman, I am afraid of shaded women indeed. Even living in Abu Dhabi, I never got used to it. And I don't want to either. Because in Europe it used to be the same 200 years ago. Let´s take a book about the Victorian era, let´s take a look on a newspaper from the 19th century. It´s like reading The National. I get a very intense feeling of deja-vu every time I read about these issues. My grandmum, a Spanish Catholic born and raised in a small village on the north of Spain, also used to wear a veil (pañoleta) to cover her hair and dark, modest clothes to conceal her figure. Oh, yes, she was wearing them by free will. Ehem. Nobody had pushed her to do it, of course. Ehem. Now she says it was all nonsense. And she despises the so-called pious words or statements used to convince her and other women to do so. She feels it all was a lie to control women and make them be ashamed of their bodies and feminity. My grandmum is 85. I lived in Paris for some years. If you take the RER (High-speed train) from the outskirts to the town centre, you´ll be able to see a lot of Muslim girls taking off their hijabs and long skirts in the toilets and turn into a "Western girl" in 5 minutes. They say they cannot do it in their conservatives districts, because their families would frown on them or other men and women would call them prostitutes. They will do the opposite on the way back home and wear their veils again, looking as pious and modest as it is convenient. So, better than defend or attack shaded women, let´s give them time. In 50 years their granddaughters will not wear any veil anymore. As it happened with me and my grandmum. But it scares me that so many people, so many men, think it´s normal to tolerate situations that needed 100 years of feminism in Europe to be changed.

When men say a woman must cover herself and keep a modest, conservative appearance so that we don´t provoke them, then I get annoyed. What? Man, learn to control yourself and don´t put the blame of your lack of discipline on me, please! Do I leap upon any attractive male I see, even when they are scantily dressed? No. Because I am a woman and don´t have sexual feelings? No. Because I can control myself. If I can, you guys can too. No excuse.