Sunday, October 29, 2006

Veiled threats

Australians, and other morally upstanding people are up in arms because Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, one of the country's most senior Muslim clerics has apparently compared women who don't wear a headscarf to uncovered meat.

Now, Muslim clerics aren't my favourite people in all the world. I'm not a big fan of organised religion at all, and Islam quite frankly creeps me out. I've already ranted about the curious double-standards of a lot of Islamic protest to western commentary or attitude - to my casual eye it seems many Muslims are far too quick to take umbrage at the slightest suggestion of an insult to their crazy way of thinking. Western, Christian or Secular interests are well within their rights to complain about this particular incident, but it is the nature of that complaint that strikes me as odd.

Sheikh Taj said (or at least is reported to have said):

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?

People have taken this as meaning he thinks of western women as uncovered meat. Much of the outrage is at this unflattering comparison. Scott Adams, whose blog post yesterday brought this to my attention, has a nice dig about men being upset at being thought of as cats. But to my mind, this metaphor doesn't actually say women are uncovered meat, nor men cats. It doesn't insult either sex in that way, and to take it thus it to fundamentally miss the point.

What our fanatical and misogynistic cleric is actually saying is that men are incapable of controlling their basic instinct to procreate, and so women must be covered to protect them from tempting us. A woman not wearing a headscarf, or better yet the full niqab, will drive us men into such a frenzy of uncontrolled lust we will leap upon her and rape her right there in the street in front of many witnesses. Hell, they'll probably all join in.

He goes on to say that it is the fault of the uncovered meat that it gets eaten. Effectively, that a woman not wearing a headscarf when she goes out in public is inviting rape and deserves it when she gets it. Here the feminists have my full support in their outrage. The idea that a woman in any way brings rape upon herself by the way she dresses or acts is so wrong it would be laughable, if it wasn't actually believed by so many people. But instead of getting outraged at this poisonous misogyny, the media goes - 'he compared women to meat - ick!' and that's about as deep as the commentary gets.

This pisses me off.

And anyway, if you put uncovered meat out and the cats eat it, it's not the meat's fault, nor the cats'. It's your own fault for putting the meat out uncovered in the first place. But Sheikh Taj doesn't say who 'you' are in the context of his contemptible metaphor. Is it Allah? Or is it the husband/father/brother of the meat? I suspect he feels the latter is the case; it's certainly the justification for many of the so-called 'honour' killings among Muslim families, and the way many Muslim women around the world (but, obviously, not all) are treated as property and second-class citizens.

The wearing of the veil has been in the news over here recently, too. Jack Straw, our pale-faced former Foreign Secretary, now Leader of the Commons, stirred the pot first by telling the world he asked Muslim women who came to his constituency surgery if they might remove their veils when seeking his help. Ask, that is, not insist. Help was never denied those who demurred. From the backlash, you might have believed the government were on the brink of banning the wearing of a veil anywhere in the UK, which would have been terrible for the pantomime season.

Hard on the heals of that fiasco, came the story of the teaching assistant, Aishah Azmi, who claimed discrimination because she was asked to remove her veil when working. She couldn't, she said, because there might be male teachers present. Presumably she was worried that the sight of her bared cheeks would drive them into uncontrollable passions, and we wouldn't want that in front of the children now, would we?

Ms Azmi remains a complete cipher to me. I can't understand how any educated woman would want to cover themselves up as completely as the niqab does. Aberystwyth doesn't have much of a Muslim community, so I don't see many veiled women walking its streets, but the images on the news of dark cloaked figures, nothing showing but a tiny pink spot of nose, is to me rather sinister. Even worse when they wear those thick-lensed, black-rimmed NHS spectacles. It's possible that they truly believe it is both dangerous and dishonourable to show any more flesh in public, after all, the Qur'an spells it out thus:

"Oh Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and wives and daughters of the believers, to extend their outer garments around themselves, so that they would be distinguished and not molested. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful".
(Qur'an, 33:59)

Clearly we can see from this that women should wear black tents at all times. I'm not sure I follow the logic that if they don't extend their outer garments then it is their fault they are molested, but I'm not a Muslim. To my mind if a woman believes she must cover herself entirely when in public, then it is because she has been thoroughly brainwashed by the controlling men in her society, not because the Qur'an demands it.

And for a woman to become a teaching assistant in the UK, she must first have engaged to a certain extent with the educational system of this country. She must have learned to read and to form opinions for herself. And yet, Ms Azmi wishes to veil herself completely, as per the strictest interpretation of her religion. She chooses to submit herself to patriarchal domination.

Well, fair enough. Britain is, as we keep having to remind ourselves, a free country. I'm not going to stop her wearing the niqab and walking five paces behind her husband. But that doesn't mean she has the right to demand the rest of non-fundamentalist Muslim society accommodate her religious choice in every facet of life. She cannot teach, or assist a teacher, whilst wearing the niqab. It's not fair to ask the non-Muslim children in her class to suffer the shortcomings of not being able to see their teaching assistant, and it's not fair to expect all the male staff of that school to wear bells around their necks so that she can hear them coming and quickly dive under the nearest covering. In short, her religious choice comes with consequences that she must accept, the most obvious being that her ability to function in a society that relies heavily on communication between men and women through facial expressions will be seriously curtailed.

This then is the crux of the problem, and it leads us back to Sheikh Taj's mad statements. He truly believes what he says, and a great many other Muslims do to. Even some members of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, who have supported him. These people are a minority, but they are a vocal minority. They are extremely intolerant of any alternative way of thinking and yet at the same time expect us non-Muslims to bend over backwards to be tolerant of them. Then throw a hissy-fit when we don't.

I'm not sure I have an answer to this. If I could have my way I would ban all religions, but I'm bright enough to realise that would never work. Certainly I think that non-Muslims need to stop bothering so much about causing offence, particularly to those who will take it even if it is unintentional. In the end it will be for the moderate and progressive followers of Islam - by far the majority - to face down the fundamentalists and show them up for the madmen (and women) they are. And likewise the majority of believers in all other religions should have the courage and strength to face down the fanatics who claim god speaks only to, and for, them.

Me, I just wish they whole lot of them would go away.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

This is one of those impossible issues. It may only be because of the local debate going on here re: veils that I took this as a shot back at some other things being said, and perhaps I'm quite guilty of taking it out of context in that regard.

Some Muslim women have been claiming that their choice to wear the veil is a feminist choice. That it is their choice and should be respected. Others are mocking and ridiculing such a statement.

Of course, I interspersed my 2 cents on it today in my blog... at least, the straight-off idea that the rights of these women to choose should be dismissed automatically. Maybe a nun's habit is anti-feminist and degrading to women. Do we see people pushing for them to dress differently in public?

And when one group doesn't respect another group then the shots go on and on and it just polarizes people. It does nothing to mend fences and help us get past petty differences.

Can't we all just get along? I mean, think of it this way. If God speaks to you and you have the words of truth, then the rest of us will burn in hell. But you've got eternity made. So why not be happy about it and feel sorry for those that are lost? We should be pitied. And you should feel smug and superior, but no need to shove anything down our throats because we're going to rot in hell.

October 30, 2006 11:14 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

But what if God tells you that your place in heaven depends on your converting the ungodly to your way of thinking?

Actually, in my experience, it is rarely God who tells you to do anything at all, but Man.

And I don't have a problem with women expressing themselves by what they wear. If a woman truly feels liberated wearing the niqab, then bully for her. What I can't accept is that everyone else should bend over backwards to accommodate her choice when it is clearly detrimental to the role she is trying to occupy in society.

For example, I see no reason why naturism should be banned - people should have a right to wander around naked if that's their thing. But if you choose never to wear clothes, then you will have to limit yourself geographically to places where this will not cause offence to people who don't share your views. You certainly won't be able to hold down a teaching job and I don't think it's unfair discrimination to deny you access to the classroom, unless that classroom is in a private school on a naturist camp.

October 31, 2006 10:16 am  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

And I don't have a problem with women expressing themselves by what they wear. If a woman truly feels liberated wearing the niqab, then bully for her. What I can't accept is that everyone else should bend over backwards to accommodate her choice when it is clearly detrimental to the role she is trying to occupy in society.

That's exactly the point. If a woman wants to wear tents then she can't become a teacher in a non-Muslim school. And if some Muslims expect me to wear a tent, they should go back to Pakistan or some such place where they won't meet me.

October 31, 2006 5:46 pm  

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