Don’t Ban the Burka – Shun It

I’ve just read an open letter which calls for a ban on wearing the Burka. It’s written not by a member of the EDL, or a white supremacist, as you may well be thinking (it is, after all, how we’ve been conditioned to think), but by Dr T Hargey, Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford.

I’m not overly convinced about banning the veil (either the Burka or the Niqab), but it is time its apologists started to understand that it should be treated by civil society in the same way we would view a Nazi uniform or a KKK outfit, and, frankly, that is precisely how I see it.

It’s an abhorrent infringement on women’s rights, is not required by Islam anyway, and even if it were, Islam tells its followers to follow the customs and practices of their host nations. More importantly, Turkey, a secular but Muslim country, has banned wearing of headscarves of any kind in public buildings for decades, only just relaxing this recently, following the election to power of a more overtly Muslim party.

If wearing the veil were a fundamental requirement of Islam, rather than a requirement of fundamentalist Islam, it would be worn by all Muslim women around the world; it isn’t, because it isn’t.

Many deluded multi-culti apologists insist on continuing to actively or passively support practices such as forcing women to conceal themselves and FGM; some are even so keen to wear their cultural diversity credentials with pride that they are stupid enough to sign a petition in support of the latter! The irony here is that such people are actually the racists, because the clear implication is that “those poor little brown people are a little backward, so we mustn’t hold them to the same standards we expect of ourselves.” That’s not cultural diversity – it’s racism. Human rights transcend boundaries, cultures, and religions, and any practices which get in the way of such basic human rights should be decried for what they are.

If you endorse wearing of the veil, you have to be pretty damned sure of, understand, and agree with the following:

  1. Only women wear the veil (with the exception of fleeing criminals and probably a minority of Muslim cross-dressers). Ask yourself why. What does this imply?
  2. The woman wants to wear it and is under no compulsion to wear it. This is far from easy to ascertain. Former Labour MP of the constituency of my childhood, Anne Cryer, has publicly spoken of her vast case experience of particularly Pakistani women visiting her in secret with tales of domestic oppression and abuse – and the authorities’ unwillingness to intervene.

Assuming these conditions are met, you still have to ask the question as to why a woman chooses to do something that many Muslims fought against decades and probably centuries ago; a garment which immigrant mothers and grandmothers cast off with glee, and against which many still fight to this day in other, less liberal societies.

True, there are a number of indigenous British women who convert to Islam and adopt the veil to show their adherence to the faith. Far be it from me to see this as an ostentatious display of their rejection of the values their ancestors fought for, and the product of a life which has probably been spent ‘trying to find themselves’ (because being born in a relatively privileged society in a privileged period in history just isn’t enough) – but that is exactly how I do see it, I’m afraid.

Others don the veil as a blatant political ‘two fingers’ up to the establishment; a rejection of western, capitalist values. People used to wear Che Guevara t-shirts; now some of them wear the veil instead.

Either way, there is no reason for an indigenous, British woman who converts to Islam to adopt a Wahhabi item of clothing from a foreign culture. You don’t have to wear an unrelated tribal costume to show how Muslimy and exotic you are. It’s akin to me adopting native American beliefs and walking around in a feather head dress. I only do that on special evenings.

The one thing a ban would of course ensure is that we would be certain that no women could be compelled to wear one. That is a core part of the justification for its ban in France and Belgium.

I am pleased to see, however, that an increasing number of reforming/secular Muslims are speaking out about this issue and against the veil. This is a great development, and is to be welcomed and encouraged, not only because it is nearly impossible for any indigenous person to criticise foreign cultural practices without being instantly and unthinkingly labelled racist by those who have been raised and conditioned seemingly without critical faculties of their own, but also because it takes a great deal of bravery on the part of Muslims to speak out against or attempt to reform any illiberal cultural practices which have become inextricably and occasionally cynically linked to their religion – even when there is no link.

Most Christians and Jews wilfully ignore or contextualise unsavoury parts of their holy books. Both religions have undergone reformation and now most mainstream Christians and Jews explain away the violence, sexism, and pretty much all kinds of other unpleasantness in the Bible by putting such accounts into an historic context – they were dogmas of the desert, and modern believers pick and choose the bits they like to adapt to a modern context. Sure, the God Hates Fags brigade, as loathsome as they are, do exist, but they are very much in the minority, due to the Reformation, and there are few (ok, no) incidents of terrorist atrocities carried out in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, people who come to religion later or those who convert seem to tend to be more strident, and often more extreme, in their actions. They’ve made a conscious decision, rather than having been raised in the faith, and so they are all the more willing to wear their faith proudly and publicly, and this would explain the tendency for indigenous European female converts to wear the veil – at a time when their ‘sisters’ in Saudi Arabia are trying to discard it or fight for the right to drive a car (See also Alaa Wardi’s excellent video).

As an aside, and a concession, but one which merely reinforces my point, it would only be fair for me to make the same observation on converts becoming more strident about myself, since, having abandoned my Christian faith sometime shortly after 9/11, I became more vocally anti-theistic. So, as Pontius Pilate might have heard several times, whilst going about his daily business, mea culpa!

Most of our laws are in place for preventative reasons. The reason we have speed limits imposed is to prevent as far as possible any potential speed-related accidents. Perhaps, then, there is justification for a full ban of the veil, to prevent as far as possible any potential oppression of its wearers.

I’d still prefer though that rather than an outright ban, we shunned it for what it is – an ancient, desert tribal symbol of a backward cultural practice in which women are forced to cover themselves because their men aren’t capable of resisting their sexual urges, and made its wearing as unwelcome in our streets as an SS uniform would be.