< HOME  Sunday, October 15, 2006

Muslims are the new ‘Jews’

I've been meaning to share my two cents worth on Straw's recent statement about Muslim women's veils, but I haven't found the time.

This Times commentary pretty much mirrors my thoughts on the subject and is well worth sharing for its passion, its style, and its good sense.

There is one example, however, that the author used to illustrate her point about tolerance, that struck me as odd and misplaced - can you guess which it is? I won't give you any hints.
Very little makes sense in this business about Jack Straw, Muslim women and veils. Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant from Dewsbury, Yorks, was last week suspended for refusing to take her veil off in class - she was allowed to wear it everywhere else at school, but, rightly to my mind, was told by her local education authority that her pupils, who are mostly learning English as a second language, needed to see her mouth when she taught. This seems entirely sensible.

The rest of the whole sorry 'debate' is anything but.

The white, male former foreign secretary said the veil was a “visible statement of separation and of difference”, and that he asks women who visit his surgery to remove it. And nuns? Does he demand to see their hair, too? It’s open season on Islam — Muslims are the new Jews. And the idea that Straw’s divisive statement should not only be tolerated but adopted on all sides, as it has been with a kind of bullying relish, troubles me.

Especially since July 7, it has become acceptable to say the most ignorant, degrading things about Islam. And then we all sit around wondering why young Muslim men appear to be getting angrier and more politicised, or why “westernised” young Muslim women whose mothers go bare-headed are suddenly, defiantly, opting for the full-on niqab-style veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes.

I am particularly irked by ancient old “feminists” wheeling out themselves and their 30-years-out-of-date opinions to reiterate the old chestnut that Islam, by its nature, oppresses women (unlike the Bible, eh,?) and that the veil compounds the blanket oppression.

In their view all Muslim women are crushed because they can’t wear visible lipstick or flash their thongs. Does it occur to these idiots that not necessarily everyone swoons with admiration at the fact that they have won the freedom to dress like 55-year-old slappers?

That perhaps there exist large sections of our democratic society, veiled or otherwise, who have every right to their modesty, just as their detractors have every right to wear push-up bras?

But I’ll get to that in a minute. I should start by saying that my mother was born in Pakistan of a Hindu mother and a Muslim father. She was convent-educated and went on to marry two Catholics (not at the same time). I therefore — unlike some “offended” Wasp commentators — know what I’m talking about, a) because of my endless “aunties”, and b) through spending much of my childhood in India and Pakistan. Given the mish-mash of my ancestry, religious bigotry brings me out in hives. And what we are witnessing is religious bigotry of the most shameful kind. The words used in the context of the veil debate — “strange”, “spooky”, “weird”, “offensive”, “creepy”, “wrong”, “evil-looking”, “sinister” — are not words a civilised society should use about other human beings.

People are made uncomfortable by all sorts of things: I find shaven-headed, tattooed men unpleasant, especially if they’re drunk. I’m not mad keen on hooded gangs of youths at three in the morning. Facial piercings hurt my eyes.

My former husband and I once went to look at a house we were thinking of buying in a Jewish Orthodox bit of London. As it happened we were the only non-Orthodox people on that bit of pavement that morning. I noticed a group of Hassidim were walking around us in a peculiar way. “They’re avoiding our shadows,” the estate agent said, “because we’re unclean.” I didn’t think much of that, either.

But we all need to coexist peaceably. The fact that I find the man in Camden market with bolts through his face, or the Orthodox woman dressed in a drab sack and wearing a bad wig, as “weird” — weirder, actually — than a woman dressed in black with only her eyes showing is neither here nor there.

I don’t expect they think much of me, either. But I would have to be deranged, or consumed with hatred, to attribute random demerits to them on the basis of their physical appearance. A lot of people are made uncomfortable by disability, for instance — but because they live in a civilised society they don’t say it.

Imagine if Straw had said, “There are an awful lot of autistic people in my constituency. I tell them to look me right in the eye, otherwise I can’t help them.” Would there not be an outcry? I’m sorry to equate Islam with disability, but I am doing so because an observant person’s religion is as integral a part of them as their genetic make-up.

Oppressed women are everywhere: there’s probably one living in your street. She may be a Muslim wearing a veil, or a white woman whose husband beats her. She may be covered from head to toe, dressed like a librarian, or fond of micro-skirts. She may be your mother or your sister. She may be you — regardless of how you dress, what you believe or where you come from. And that is the point. Unhappy, abused people come in all colours, shapes and sizes. It is absurd to suddenly, appoint ourselves moral arbiters, and decree, very loudly, that a piece of fabric is an indicator of an unhappy, down-trodden life.

Happy people come in all formats too. The concept of the men hanging out together while the women “work” in the kitchen may seem peculiar to a non-Muslim — though not that peculiar, given that a less formalised version of the same thing happens whenever you have friends round — but I’ve been to many memorable, jolly parties where gangs of Muslim women ate, gossiped and laughed together without seeming overwhelmingly oppressed, or indeed, oppressed at all.

My experience of Muslim life is not that it is the patriarchal nightmare of legend, but that women are powerful, vocal and iron-fisted beneath their velvet gloves. This is a subjective viewpoint: I am not claiming that every Muslim woman in the world is gloriously carefree. They aren’t (who is?), and I am particularly offended by Straw’s comments because the women Straw described are by and large first-generation immigrants — ie, poor working-class women trying to get on with their lives.

I wonder why none of the army of instant experts has pointed out that, by and large, middle and upper middle-class Muslim women do not veil themselves unless they have the misfortune to live in a country that insists on it.

So Straw and his acolytes — the self-appointed sisterhood among them — are picking on the women who are most voiceless and least able to defend themselves. They should be ashamed.


At Sunday, October 15, 2006, Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Straw didnt complain about veils for 27 years, and now he starts having "communication issues" with his Muslim constituents.
What a degenerate. George Galloway has put out some great points on his radio show about the whole non-controversy.

At Sunday, October 15, 2006, Blogger akira said...

not sure what odd example struck you but i thought it's weird to end off saying:
"by and large, middle and upper middle-class Muslim women do not veil themselves unless they have the misfortune to live in a country that insists on it."

perhaps it is more of a misfortune to live somewhere that won't allow you to wear the attire that you believe is morally correct... and i really don't think that is true about veils only on the lower-classed muslums??

At Tuesday, October 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the ending was a bit weird. I kinda got confused actually. The rest of the post of great though and some of your remarks were downright hilarious. The sarcastic parts especially! Anyway, keep up the great work!

At Wednesday, October 18, 2006, Blogger Maggie said...

If I may share another perspective as to why someone like Jack Straw (who indeed is not the person anyone is here on the planet to please) might feel called upon to address the subject of the scarving of females in British society: There is another reason why this is a problem. It has nothing to do with Islam or Muslims. It has nothing to do with conforming, or fashion. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression. It has nothing to do with the individual wishing to live separately from the prevailing customs in observation of their religious beliefs - for example, the Amish in America are deeply respected, though they deliberately reject dress norms, electricity, telephones, conveniences. Here's what the problem REALLY is:

It is deeply offensive to the most fundamental feeling of people in free societies to see other people openly oppressed. Though we know it happens in various ways to many people in many places, including our own, when that happens it saddens us. To see degradation of another human being worn publicly and held up as a virtue of some sort is simply sickening to us.

It may be a cultural norm elsewhere to mutilate the genitals of little girls, and considered a virtue; that is not the case here. The custom must be observed elsewhere, not in this society. It may be a cultural virtue to sell off daughters in marriage to strangers, but that is not the case here, and it becomes something that people must do in private -not on the street. It may be a cultural norm for men to have four wives but women to have a single husband - but polygamy is unlawful here, and disgusting to the majority of citizens. People may freely engage in this sort of arrangement elsewhere. It may be perfectly acceptable to beat one's wife (wives) or kill one's daughters ("Honor" killing, I believe the term is) but here these things are crimes - assault and murder. They may not be practised, accepted and applauded here.

Imagine if you will some reversal of experience regarding the scarving of females: what if it was the custom for men to wear clothing that exposed the testicles, that women's clothing bare the breasts? Would we not all find this appalling? If you were forced to see it on the streets or in public transportation or to know your children were exposed to it in schoolrooms from their teachers, would you not, finally, no matter how much you wish to be sympathetic and tolerant, say something?

The degradation of women is an obscenity to us. To deliberately throw it in the faces of one's neighbors does more than separate - it's offensive. If you are in our countries, you are free to act as you wish in your homes - something that is not the case, I believe, in many of the countries that promote the subjugation of women as a virtue. If people are going to emigrate to free societies, they must understand that they are guests and conduct themselves accordingly, at least in shared public life. Or, live elsewhere. I cannot help but wonder what it is that attracts immigrants to places for which they have such contempt. Please, be happy, perhaps somewhere else.

Jack Straw finally said something. It's worth listening to. If it is unacceptable, perhaps it would be better, and you would be happier, occupying some country whose customs towards females are more in keeping with your comfort zone.

At Thursday, October 19, 2006, Blogger qrswave said...

maggie, thanks for the long and thoughtful response - though, I couldn't disagree with you more.

Perhaps, the Public auctions in Israel are more to your liking.

What I find appalling is your shameless hypocrisy.


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