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October 07, 2006


Backword Dave

I've started to think that there's another argument pro Straw. AFAIK, women in Islamic countries who want to be seen - eg newsreaders, politicians and the like, when they address audiences or interview people do not wear the veil. The veil may have a purpose: that of making women less visible, and I believe Islamic women who wear one in public feel safer or more comfortable. However, if the purpose of the veil (and it is er 'marketed' as a practical rather than decorative item of clothing) is to make the wearer invisible, then it makes sense to take it off when not being invisible.

I think these women are running two conflicting scripts at once: one is - I am in the presence of a strange man and I should be invisible; the other says, I want this strange man to hear me. Jack Straw described in his original article a woman who came to see him, wearing a veil, while her husband sat in the background. This seems to be selectively lifting Islam: were she fully religious, her husband would do all the 'man-stuff' (and only he would vote, she having only half his worth, etc). But she didn't like that bit, so chose to ignore it. The bit she did like, however, is the bit Shuggy, rightly IMO, emphasises, the lack of parity or reciprocality.

Apparently, it's debatable whether the Quran really calls for the veil; but the rule seems to be: if you want to go to the marketplace without being harrassed, wear a veil; if you want to speak candidly, take it off.

Jasper Milvain

Today's Guardian has a letter from a partially deaf woman unnerved by veils: it's second-from-bottom at http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,1889690,00.html


I don't think there's anything self-evidently ludicrous about saying that somebody who makes it impossible for others to read his or her facial expression - in a setting where visible facial expressions are a normal expectation - is creating a barrier. As I understand it the literal meaning of the word 'hijab' *is* 'barrier': the idea is to preserve the modesty of the Muslim woman (and, to a lesser extent, the Muslim man) by setting up a barrier between her or his body and the eyes of the world. The pro-niqab position seems effectively to be that those who believe in using clothing as a barrier should have the right to do this (and advocate it), but those who don't shouldn't have the right to criticise it.

More to the point, I can't understand how anyone - at least, anyone who's lived in British society for the last couple of decades - can look at a custom like the niqab and not think 'sexism'. That, rather than the phantom of Islamist separatism, is what the niqab (and most other forms of hijab) means to me - and that's the main reason I hate it.

Having said all of that, I was shocked and offended to hear that Straw actually asks women to remove the veil - that in itself seems like an abuse of power, which inevitably suggests both racism and sexism ("why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful...") So, er, I agree with everyone - or, more probably, disagree with everyone.


"First, my poor social skills mean I under-rate the importance of looking at faces, as I find them awkward or unpleasant to read."

Is this line in self-deprecation you have genuine? Nearer the truth, I suspect, is that your control over the English language allows to to communicate without needing to see someone's face with a fluency that eludes most people...

"And I don't regard streets as places of social interaction - they're just throughways for atomized individuals. I'm comfortable with anomie."

We know a song about this. All together now, "Maybe because I'm a Londoner...."


Tell me, thgose shops and building societies that insist you take off a motorcycling helmet, do they also insist on unveiling?


Is there a difference between hijabs on one hand and chadors, niqab or burqas on the otherhand? Or is it just a difference without significance?

Devil's Kitchen

Once upon a time, a humble Devil wrote a piece about how a third of Muslims in Britain wanted to live under sharia law. This little Devil then pointed out that it seemed to be exclusively men calling for this and that, were this to be implemented, then only 50% of the community, i.e. the men, would have a voice.

A couple of people, identifying themselves as Muslim women, left thank you comments on that post; few people, they intimated, spoke out for the female of the Muslim species.

This humble Devil does not object to people wearing these concealing dresses provided that they are worn willingly and not through coercion or to hide the marks of a vicious beating (as revealed by the normally egregious Yasmin Alibhai-Brown).

On the other hand, to wear a veil when you are talking to someone is as symptomatic of bad manners as wearing a hat indoors.



"...is an affront to an unspoken understanding that in public places, where people interact, you should be able to read their faces"

Well it was certainly unspoken to me, and I don't understand where it's supposed to come from. The world of invisible contracts, I suppose. Isn't this just asserting a personal preference as a moral obligation?

james highamj

My comment on the veil and you comes up in 40 minutes but what I'd like to say is congrats for being a top 50 blogger on Iain Dale's new list.


This is one I've been puzzling over all day- which is why I haven't blogged upon it on my own blog. There is a little of the analogy with women who don't speak English here- in that women are being deprived or depriving themselves of one of the main ways of communicating through the face- and women who won't speak English too are depriving themselves of a communication tool. I suppose there is a question of consent- should girls wear the veil. There is to me also bound up the question of how far cultures can in the end end up separatist. But these are very rough and ready thoguhts and I accept there is another more tolerant argumetn.


The wearing of a veil on the streets of a free society should be banned.
Equally so should the use of opaque tinted glass in vehicles. Why should anyone be allowed to maintain annonymity in public places.

Bob B

"Tell me, those shops and building societies that insist you take off a motorcycling helmet, do they also insist on unveiling?"

Quite so, not to omit mention of the Essex shopping centre which has banned hoodie yoofs because wearing hoods prevents the identification and tracking of criminals on CCTV cameras deployed around the centre to deter and detect crime.

May I tentatively suggest a Muslim solidarity week in which we all go around wearing veils and bandanas as face masks?


"May I tentatively suggest a Muslim solidarity week in which we all go around wearing veils and bandanas as face masks?"

Qur'an, Surah 24:31: "tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment."

If that's what you want to affirm solidarity with, be my guest.


"If that's what you want to affirm solidarity with, be my guest."

No, it's that there is the possibility that there are a variety of interpretations of what the veil means. That someone should want to wear it for the same reasons you outline above is by no means given.

Bob B

Absolutely. Bank robbers, for instance.

Bob B


"A MALE suspect in a major anti-terrorist investigation in Britain escaped capture by allegedly disguising himself as a Muslim woman dressed in a burka, The Times can reveal. The man, who was wanted in connection with serious terrorist offences, evaded arrest for several days as police searched for him across the country. . . Counter-terrorist agencies in Britain and Europe have long been concerned about the readiness of male Islamist terrorists to wear female clothing."

"Why Muslim women should thank Jack Straw" by Saira Khan


"That someone should want to wear it for the same reasons you outline above is by no means given."

Maybe not, but any reasons that go back to 'my identity as a Muslim' must have some relationship with what it says in the Qur'an, surely. (The lines quoted are the key passage justifying hijab.)

I liked the Saira Khan piece.

Not Saussure

Jack Straw's hearing problems are a bit of a red herring, I think. Had he written an article explaining that's why he asks his constituents to remove their veils, then I doubt anyone would have been bothered, or even interested. Doubtless, too, he sometimes has cause to ask his constituents to speak a bit more clearly and distinctly, but he doesn't write articles complaining that poor diction is a major problem of social concern.

The Pedant-General

"Doubtless, too, he sometimes has cause to ask his constituents to speak a bit more clearly and distinctly, but he doesn't write articles complaining that poor diction is a major problem of social concern."

But then he wouldn't get castigated by anyone for doing so. He has raised this as an issue precisely because one is liable to be branded "insensitive" - or worse - simply for asking.

Note that he asks - not demands. I fail to see how this can be an abuse of power.

Not Saussure

I didn't say anything about an abuse of power; I said I thought the fact he's got hearing problems is a bit of a red herring, since that's clearly not why he raised the matter of women wearing naqibs and so forth.

For what it's worth, I always thought it very ill-mannered of people (and, indeed, foolhardy) to criticise my late wife for wearing her furs when she chose to, whatever political or moral reservations they might have about such garments. I don't quite see why similar principles shouldn't apply to naqibs if people chose to wear them. Rather more so, I'd have thought, since there was certainly an element of ├ępater les politiquement corrects about her coats that I doubt there is about Muslim women's clothing.


My life's been completely unremarkable recently. I haven't been up to anything. I just don't have much to say. I've just been letting everything pass me by. Shrug. I don't care.


I've just been letting everything wash over me. I've pretty much been doing nothing. I've just been sitting around not getting anything done.

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