Not Saussure

February 4, 2007

Policy Exchange report on Islamism: girls just wanna shock?

Filed under: Islam, UK — notsaussure @ 11:11 pm

Interesting article in Saturday’s Telegraph by Vicki Woods about

The most striking picture I saw last week […] was of three young women walking head-to-head down the street in a suburb of Birmingham. It made me laugh out loud.[ …]
niqab.jpg They were in black abayas, with thick overcoats on top and hijabs and niqabs over their heads leaving only a slit for the eyes. The message these garments send is not “charming” but aggressive: “Back off, you! Don’t touch me.” Ripped-up punk clothing sent the same deliberately aggressive signals in the 1980s. What made me laugh was that one of the young women was jabbing a two-fingered salute at the photographer, just in case he didn’t get the message. (more…)


December 9, 2006

Blair on multi-culturalism

Filed under: Blair, Islam, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 2:30 pm

Just taken a quick look at Blair’s speech — reproduced in full in the Telegraph. Doubtless I’ll return to it later, but a few first impressions.

Well, one very literally a first impression, since in the first sentences he holds up our winning the Olympic bid as something to celebrate, which lost me immediately, I’m afraid. His following observation,

This was not the stuffy old Britain that used to be sent up in the comedy sketches of the 1970s but a nation proud, willing and able to go out and compete on its merits,

with its blithe dismissal of the ‘stuffy old Britain’ of the past — not even the real thing, mark you, but the version he recalls from the TV sketches of his teenage and undergraduate years — in favour, again, not of the real thing but of the ‘compelling, modern vision of Britain’ we (that is, Sex [oops. Sodding blogdesk spellchecker] Seb Coe and his team) ‘presented’ ‘when we won the Olympic bid’ — didn’t really fill me with confidence about what was going to follow, either. (more…)

November 10, 2006

Blind justice II — Express and MPs bemused

Filed under: civil liberties, Islam, Law — notsaussure @ 9:12 pm

As noted by Five Chinese Crackers, Mr Justice Hodge has issued an interim direction about wearing of Islamic veils in court, in response to the enquiry from Judge Glossop, who objected to Shabnam Mughal wearing one in his court earlier in the week, as she apparently has done for the past two years at tribunals in Birmingham and Stoke (where Judge Glossop sits) without causing any complaints until now. (more…)

October 26, 2006

Veils and vestments

Filed under: Catholicism, England, history, Islam — notsaussure @ 10:32 pm

A curious article on the Beeb website, purporting to draw parallels between current concern (at least in some quarters) about how Muslim women dress and religious controversy in the C17th:

These may seem like unfamiliar and uncharted waters that British society is moving into – controversy over religious clothing, and fearful tensions between a religious minority and the mainstream. In fact, we’ve been here before, 400 years ago – or somewhere uncannily like it.
In the days of Elizabeth I and James I/VI, the English church was riven by the Puritan controversy. The main issue – at least on the surface – was what ministers should wear: traditional robes or ordinary clothes. The difference is that then it was the establishment that demanded distinctive clothing and the radicals – the Puritans – who insisted on everyday wear.

and it goes on at some length to try to establish this.

I’d have thought there was an historically much more recent and far closer parallel, though; that between Catholics in Victorian England and Muslims today — recent immigrants, practicing a faith that had long been distrusted and seen as the enemy of Protestant England, and one with connections, at least in the English mind, both with hostile or potentially hostile foreign powers, with foreign religious leaders issuing fatwahs (or encyclicals, as we call them) that the faithful may be tempted to follow in preference to British law and custom.   You’ve certainly got the terrorist connections, and there was even controversy about religious dress; I’m not sure when the rule was revoked but certainly the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which is generally thought of as having removed most of the legal disabilities suffered by Catholics, provided

That if any Roman Catholic Ecclesiastic, or any member of any of the orders, communities or societies hereinafter mentioned, shall, after the commencement of this Act, exercise any of the rites or ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, or wear the habits of his order, save within the usual places of worship of the Roman Catholic religion, or in private houses; such ecclesiastic or other person shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, forfeit for every such offence the sum of Fifty pounds.

Curiously, though, they left religious women alone;

Provided always, and be it Enacted, That nothing herein contained shall extend or be construed to extend in any manner to affect any religious order, community or establishment consisting of Females bound by religious or monastic vows.

On a slight sidetrack, I’m always a bit bemused by complaints about Muslim women who wear the veil visibly rejecting British norms and mainstream society; I mean, most of us would agree, I’d have thought,  that taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and living a communal life with other, like-minded, folk was rather out of the mainstream and something of a radical rejection of many aspects of contemporary life and culture, but we don’t seem too bothered when monks and nuns do it.   I suppose one difference is  we’re used to seeing them. 

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October 21, 2006

Labour Politics and the Veil

Filed under: Islam, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 2:01 pm

Via Pickled Politics, with a very good commentary by Sunny, I discover that, God help us, there’s an article by Peter Oborne in The Daily Mail I pretty much agree with. Now I know how Calupurnia felt.

Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.

Nevertheless, Oborne makes some very sound points: (more…)

October 18, 2006

Quote of the week

Filed under: Blogroll, Islam, Panic — notsaussure @ 10:42 pm

Veiled Muslim women are caricatured as oppressed victims who need rescuing from their controlling men, while at the same time accused of being threatening creatures who really should stop intimidating the (overly tolerant) majority

Salam Yaqoob Via Andrew Bartlett

(Both linked stories date from after the quote)

October 15, 2006

Jumping the gun?

Filed under: civil liberties, Community, Islam, UK — notsaussure @ 2:31 am

Since this is The Independent’s version of what The Sunday Mirror reckon he said, so something may have got a garbled, but this seems a bit OTT and certainly premature:

Phil Woolas, Communities and Local Government minister, whose brief includes race relations, said that teaching assistant Aishah Azmi had put herself in a position where she could not “do her job” at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. The suspended 24-year-old was “denying the right of children to a full education”, and her refusal to work unveiled with men amounted to “sexual discrimination”. “She should be sacked,” he told the Sunday Mirror. Ms Azmi admitted she had not worn a veil at her job interview.

Since there appears to be some dispute (at least according to Ms Azmi) about what Ms Azmi and the school had agreed about her veil, and quite possibly about other matters too, wouldn’t it have been better for Mr Woolas to wait until the Employment Tribunal to which the matter’s been referred has had the opportunity to hear both sides of the story and makes its decision before jumping in with both feet?

I’m not expressing a view one way or the other; she certainly didn’t come over particularly well in the TV interview she gave (link here), particularly when it transpired she didn’t wear her veil at the job interview where one of the panel was a male governor.

But she’s only 23 or 24 and has presumably never been on national TV before, so maybe it’s not fair to judge her on that 2 or 3 minute performance. I’d rather be in full possession of the facts, including both her and the school’s account of what they’d agreed or not about her veil, her contract and terms and conditions of employment and a copy of the school’s disciplinary proceedures, before making a judgment. That’s what the Employment Tribunal will investigate. I’m just rather surprised that a government minister doesn’t share my caution in employment disputes.

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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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October 9, 2006

Crisis? Which crisis?

Filed under: civil liberties, Islam, Religion, UK — notsaussure @ 10:08 pm

Says Janet Daley in today’s Telegraph,

There was bound to be a crisis eventually. We could not have gone on talking about rights and diversity and freedom in a conveniently messy, unresolved way forever. At some point, the contradictions that we had been pretending not to see would become so blatant that they could not be obfuscated away.

Now we have it […]

And what crisis is this? That brought about by, say, the apparent conflict between things like habeas corpus and judicial independence and whatever Dr Reid and Tony Blair today take to be the demands of the war against terror, in which there are to be ‘no “no-go” areas’, perhaps?

Nope. Far more serious.

Islamic women are presenting a challenge to our modern political settlement that is likely to bring the entire edifice into question.

Crikey! How are they doing this? By wearing veils, apparently.

Hmm. Some of the people commenting on her piece try to make sense of the assertion by drawing parallels with — for example — hoodies and people being asked to remove their motor cycle helmets or balaclavas when entering banks and building societies. Someone, for example, comments

If motorcyclists have to remove their helmets in banks, shops and pubs, so that they may be seen, and people are rightly suspicious of those wearing ski masks or balaclava worn back to front, what impression and effect do they consider they convey when fully veiled, to the majority of society?

This I could take more seriously had there been many examples of niqab-clad women taking advantage of the anonymity thus afforded, and robbing the banks in question or mugging passers by. Possibly it’s a wide-spread and under-reported problem in Jack Straw’s Preston, but I rather doubt it.

And, to be fair, Janet Daley doesn’t seek to advance this line. She asks,

Does a woman have a “right” to repudiate the freedom to be treated as an equal by society? No, she does not. If mandated democratic governments have passed laws that say that women should be educated, enfranchised and treated the same as men by the law, then that is the judgment of the nation as a whole and should be accepted by all those who reside here.

Being “free” does not mean that you can pick and choose among the freedoms that are on offer, as if the political culture were a supermarket. It is as much an undertaking on your part to uphold the responsibility of freedom as it is the undertaking of the government to safeguard it. Under this formulation, freedom does not mean what you choose it to mean: it means what the nation as a whole has decided is in the best interests of all the people.

This seems to me to go off at a complete tangent. No one, I take it, is suggesting that women wearing such clothing have ‘repudiated the freedom to be treated as an equal by society’; I don’t know if there have been any cases involving, for example, the right to be educated ‘the same as men’ and wearing a niqab, but didn’t recently one Shabina Begum go all the way to the House of Lords to try to establish her right to be educated while wearing what she takes to be the dress mandated by her religion?

She wasn’t saying ‘my religion tells me not to go to school’; she was saying, rightly or wrongly, ‘I very much want to go to school but I want at the same time to wear what I think my religion dictates’.

Indeed, I’m not sure how someone would ‘repudiate the freedom to be treated as an equal by society’, even if they wanted to. How do you do that? Unless, of course, the assumption is that society — which, as Mrs Thatcher reminded us, comprises individuals — is somehow justified in treating women who choose to wear veils or niqabs or whatever as less than equals. And on this, there’s a very good comment, to my mind, from a former editor of Ms Daley’s paper over in The First Post:

It is amusing sometimes to watch the atheist or agnostic try to reconcile a person’s religious beliefs with the fact that they also appear to be rational, professional and sane. These women probably went to Mr Straw’s constituency surgery wanting to talk about bin collection, or the yobs in their neighbourhood. They were rendered socially ‘separate’ not by their veils, but by his request to remove them and then to write about it in a local newspaper.

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October 6, 2006

What not to wear

Filed under: Blogroll, civil liberties, Islam, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 10:24 pm

An interesting discussion going on at The Sharpener about Jack Straw’s objections to Muslim women wearing veils. Sunny opens the piece by saying exactly what I thought when I heard about the controversy,

Imagine if a Muslim MP declared that he had asked his female visitors to cover-up if they were ‘inappropriately’ dressed.

One of the comments can, I think, be readily dismissed:

Tell you what. Imagine moving to abroad to a Muslim country and claiming the right for you and your descendants to wander half-dressed through the streets. And be drunk as well if you feel like it. I think that’s the kind of thing which is frowned on as culturally insensitive and not really a good idea as it offends local sensibilities. The difference being ?

An obvious difference is that such behaviour would be illegal in those countries. Wearing a burqua isn’t illegal here, where we tolerate all manner of sartorial eccentricities. My sensibilities are frequently offended by many of the half-naked drunks one sees on the streets every summer; the blokes’ appearance, in particular, would often be greatly improved by burquas, but I’m not going to insist on it.

Rachel, though, writes more thoughtfully about how she feels uncomfortable with women wearing a niqab, as the things are apparently called, and expresses pretty much what Jack Straw seemed to be saying;

I’m not comfortable with a niqab because I am not comfortable with why someone would want to make such an extreme political statement that they must know acts as a barrier and unsettles people.

While I normally hesitate to disagree with Rachel, I think here I must do. With respect, I don’t the woman wearing a niqab necessarily thinks she is making an extreme political statement; she may so be doing — and, if she is, well, she can make whatever extreme political statements she wants, surely, so long as she doesn’t break the law — but I’d hazard a guess that she’s just as likely dressing the way she feels comfortable with because she’s used to it.

It seems a distinctly odd way of dressing to me, too, but what of it? She’s not dressing for my benefit. It might well be argued that wearing a sari or a shalwar kamiz in some ways acts as a barrier — my first wife, a Ugandan Asian, certainly found she got a very different reaction she was wearing her Indian clothes rather than her European ones, since people immediately saw her as ‘an Indian woman’ and tended to bring to the situation all manner of preconceptions. Being bloody-minded, of course, she reacted to this by wearing Indian clothes more and more, partly on the argument that it did no harm for people to realise that someone who looked like a very traditional Indian woman wasn’t necessarily quite what they were expecting.

Rachel goes on to say,

It seems incredibly political to make such a statement, and yes, you can do that ,but what is the point if it takes over everything that you are and gets in the way of meaningful interaction with your fellow humans?

Well, doesn’t it rather depend on with which of your fellow humans you want meaningfully to interact on a particular occasion? My interaction with most of my fellow humans much of the time is limited to trying not walk into each other on the street, or paying them in a shop or whatever. Those with whom I have a more meaningful interaction are those whose attention doesn’t stop at what I’m wearing.

I know what Rachel means, of course; I used to live in the next flat to an Iranian couple and she wore a full niqab (burqua? You could just see her eyes, anyway). I felt a bit odd passing the time of day with her, but she seemed perfectly happy with it, so who was I to object? My wife got quite chummy with her, and according to her, the Iranian lady reckoned she just felt more comfortable thus clad when she was outside the house. She knew what effect it had, and that bothered her a bit, but she’d have felt very odd not wearing her full gear.

That’s the reason I’m not sure that the analogy with European women — considerate and well-mannered ones, anyway — covering up when they visit some other countries works too well; the difference it that it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable or odd particularly (or so I’d have thought). Rachel writes,

I wouldn’t walk round in a Muslim country drunk, or bare-shouldered, in a mini skirt, because it would upset and unsettle and offend people

but presumably she doesn’t particularly mind wearing sleeves or trousers/a long skirt anyway (it might be hot, I suppose). I’d certainly feel a bit odd wearing a dhoti out of deference to local sensibilities if people insisted on such a thing in India. I’d accommodate them if they made a big issue of it, but I’d think it rather odd that they insisted on my so doing.

As to Jack Straw feeling uncomfortable with the mode of dress of some of his constituents, I can’t help but think that if that really is a problem for the poor man, he and they have an obvious solution come the next election. If he finds it difficult to talk to them under such circumstances, well, tough; it’s them who’re asking him to do something, and if they put obstacles in his way, then it’s their fault if they don’t get the results they want. If it becomes too much of a problem, then they’ll presumably find a new MP. I’m sure Craig Murray wouldn’t have had these difficulties.

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