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Thursday, October 19

Veils, Muslim or Otherwise

There's a lot of fuss on the news about Muslim women wearing veils and whether it should be allowed. I think that our Labour government has managed to give the country one single and simple demonstration of their socialist heritage, in a way that a more right-wing government wouldn't. Socialists just don't get religion and cultural identity. There, I've said it. I'm surprised to see that even the PM himself has ended up commenting in favour of removing the veils, making a judgement prejudicial to a court case surrounding a muslim teaching assistant who has been suspended for continuing to wear the veil in class.

The whole veil thing is, for me, not just about the right of a person to wear what they see fit to wear, but is about identity and freedom of expression. It's also about tolerance and understanding what is or isn't normal. Before I try to explain why I would back the right of any person to dress as they wish (no matter how stupid it makes them look), I would first like to bring up a few ideas on when it is not appropriate to dress as you wish.

The Uniform
I think it's perfectly reasonable for an employer to design a uniform that their staff should wear. I think it's also reasonable for that uniform to convey a certain look and feel. It would be a shame for such a uniform to exclude people from wearing religious apparel - crucifixes, head-wear or whatever - but if the uniform cannot stretch to that extent, and if the employer feels they have a good reason for that, then it's fair enough.

I think that uniform regulations can be challenged, but if I go to McDonalds to work, I think I have to expect not to get special treatment on any grounds. There's a uniform. Take it or leave it. In time, perhaps the regulations, with enough people appealing, and with a clientele who are smart enough to tolerate variety, might stretch to accommodating religious needs, but it's not a racial matter to stick to a uniform.

The Dress Code
Some employers don't provide an exact uniform, but do require certain dress codes. There was a case where a male employee was suspended for wearing women's clothes and he complained bitterly, yet the dress code for his employer, again, stated that he was in the wrong. While, perhaps, it's not important if someone decides to dress in opposite gender clothes, I can see the employer's point. Dress codes are, again, born out of a desire to make a certain impression or cater for a certain requirement or expectation. Given that women can wear trousers without it being non-feminine, I wouldn't see why a man would object to wearing trousers, even if he were a cross-dresser. And if what you wear is so important to you, then a job and its associated dress code must surely be dispensible.

Inappropriate Circumstances
The reason that there's a veil-wearer in the news at the moment is due to her teaching. They reckon the kids can't hear her through her veil. I think that's probably baloney. However, if a veil-wearer were to work in a school for the deaf... I think you have to balance the way you appear with the circumstances.

I think it's fine that some women choose to dress provocatively on nights out. Bless their young taut flesh for that. However, in the workplace, it would be inappropriate. In a hospital it would be unhygienic.

You get the idea. There's a time and a place for certain dress codes.

Freedom and Cultural Identity
Anyone who thinks that veil-wearing is not normal, which is the real bugbear that's brought this to the fore, has a problem. Jack Straw cited that the wearing of veils emphasises the divisions in our society, but the truth is that there is no norm for people to deviate from. England is a big mish-mash of different cultures. The only true indigenous people are probably up in Scotland and across in Wales. The rest of this country is formed from people who invaded the place, who were invaded by the British Empire, or who have come to this country to work hard and make a life for themselves, the likes of which they would be denied elsewhere.

The national favourite food is curry. This food originated somewhere else.

People on the street dress as goths, chavs, americans (jeans/t-shirt), suits, and a whole other variety of things. It doesn't matter.

To be a melting pot culture, like america thinks it is, might require us to demand that everyone loses their cultural heritage and tends towards a bland norm. Who defines that norm? Probably the high street shops, who churn out bunches of identical items of inexpensive badly made clothing, which keeps the people who made them poor in whichever country happens to be the cheapest for labour at any given moment.

To accept that there is no norm, and that people can be who they want to be, provided they respect the rights of everyone else in this country to do the same, is to provide the freedom that everyone here is so frightened of losing. The fact that muslims appear to be vilified comes from the fact that a few extreme nutcases, who are using their religion as a rationale for their lunacy, want to impinge on people's freedom. Yet, ironically, our response to that is to try to control people's behaviour and make an oppressive regime for them, exactly the regime we're frightened of. Why would we do that?

Who wants to be normal anyway? Who wants a carbon copy life? I've seen the brand of normal which we have in this country, it's chain-smoking, pie-eating, sportswear-wearing imbecilic bigotry. I'm not keen.

So, speak up against this anti-veil move. For those people who feel that they wish to use the veil for reasons of religious or cultural modesty, for that's all it is, it's important enough that they choose to look the way they do. Even though others don't. To attempt to enforce the removal of such a thing in general public, and to require that we all converge to a single nationwide standard, is to rob us of our diversity. When will they come for you? When will your favourite shirt be seen as subversive?

Carbon Copies
One final thought. Is anyone else sick of the fact that you can go to pretty much any small town, walk along the high street, and go to exactly the same shops as the last small town you visited. Worse if they've got a mall. What's the point of having different towns if they're all the same!?


Blogger Christopher said...

My stance on this topic doesn't matter, but I do know that during my teaching of English last year, I regularly covered my mouth while speaking, or turned around in order to simulate talking to someone on the phone.

Once or twice I employed telephones in an attempt to get the students to practice this scenario.

Regardless of the effect on this debate, I know for a fact that my students found it significantly more difficult to understand language they knew well when they couldn't see my or a co-student's facial expressions and lip movements. Make of that what yu will.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Ashley Frieze said...

It's a good point, and one to which I alluded in my write up. If the work of the classroom assistant is impeded by her veil, then there's a problem. I remember hearing on the news that there wasn't any difficulty caused by the veil.

Women wear veils for reasons of "modesty". Having an adult male see a woman's face may be a cultural taboo, or seen as provocative (and when you consider how much flesh is on display at the average nightclub, you have to admire this sentiment). So, I'm not sure it's necessarily a problem for a muslim woman's face to be seen by children.

The real argument I have here is with someone in government defining what is "a normal way to look". I reckon that we should fully clothe and veil some of the wobbly and fleshy folks that parade the streets. Let's go back to a more innocent and modest age. Let that be the norm. No? Ok, but if we can't dictate how much or how little to wear for slags, then I don't see why we can't let tax-paying hard-working muslims wear what the hell they like.

11:09 AM  

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