Not Saussure

October 10, 2006

More on What Not What To Wear

Filed under: civil liberties, Islam, Religion, UK — notsaussure @ 8:15 pm

Sorry to keep on about this, discussed by Rachel, Stumbling and Mumbling and Indigo Jo (and, of course, by me here and here) but I’ve had a vague parallel to this controversy nagging away at the back of my mind, and I’ve just remembered what it is.

Back in the early 1970s, I had a great school-friend whose parents had made it over from Ukraine at the end of WW2. His mother (his father was dead) managed to arrange for visas for herself, Pete and his sister Vala to go and visit what remained of the family back in the USSR, which they did. While they were in Moscow, before going on to Kiev, Pete — who must have been 17 at the time — and Vala, who was a couple of years older, were on their own on the Metro, minding their own business and chatting away happily in Ukrainian, when they were accosted by a member of the Moscow militizia.

‘Why do you wear your hair so long?’ asked the officer of Pete, ‘and why do you allow your wife to wear short a skirt? And why’, which Pete reckoned from his tone was what really upset the policeman, ‘do you allow her to wear a crucifix?’

With some difficulty, they were able to persuade the cop that their British passports really were genuine and that they weren’t Ukrainian dissidents or anti-social parasitic elements or whatever.

Now, had they actually been Soviet citizens, Pete’s long hair and Vala’s short skirt and crucifix really would have been oppositional symbols, or at least seen as such by many other Soviet citizens. Their appearance certainly connoted a political system and way of life alien to that of the USSR and one far more attractive to many Soviet citizens than is radical Islam to many Brits. In any case, it might well have been more prudent for them as visitors to follow the dictum, when in Moscow do as the Muscovites.

But was the policeman justified in giving them a hard time, and would he have been any more justified in so doing had they been born in the USSR rather than the UK? Or do we say, ‘Thank God we don’t live in a country like that’?

If I’ve got the parallel wrong somewhere, I can’t quite see it.

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