Monday, October 16, 2006

The veil, again

Recent media coverage surrounding the white hot topic of whether British Muslim women have an inalienable right to their modesty in all circumstances has further demonstrated that this particular debate is surely not the best way of grappling with the important underlying issues.

The argument about the veil is not about whether religious people should have the right to try and live by their own silly set of rules. In a liberal society they do, and we should tolerate them, to a point. That point is when those rules appear to be solidifying into an ideological position that is fundamentally intolerant towards the rights of the rest of society.

Inevitably, some defective thinkers in the media have been arguing that some (though the more audacious have implied all) Muslim women choose to display their modesty in this way and that as such it can be considered a bold feminist rejection of the kind of sexual signalling that their oppressed non-Muslim sisters indulge in. For these commentators a culture that systematically denies women (or indeed anyone) choice, is instead providing a vital opportunity for altogether admirable rebellion against the mores of the Western sexual marketplace.

Now compare the following two statements:

1) I belong to a group of committed druids that represents a small but growing portion of the population. I assert my right to carry my sickle around at work and expect to be treated with respect by my colleagues.

2) I belong to a group of committed fascists that represents a small but growing portion of the population. I assert my right to wear my red Nazi arm-band at work and have little respect for anyone that doesn't behave as I do. I am likely to show violent intolerance to anyone that dares to sit in judgement on my beliefs and attitudes.

In the past we tended to put our bearded and veiled Islamic neighbours into category 1). Increasingly however, as a society we are wondering whether we ought in fact to assign them to category 2). They are calling this victimisation, but many in the mainstream detect that what we might before have taken as pardonable silliness could in fact token an intolerant non-liberal sensibility that in the aggregate is assuming an increasingly aggressive stance towards the free choices of the people outside their little in-group.

Unlike the Nazi arm-band, the Niqab is not an offensive symbol per se, it is just a rather blatant statement of non-integration. But is the comparison really that much dafter than one that suggests the wearers of the veil are all daring individualists?

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