The veil is vile. Oh, it’s an anagram!
I was in a radio debate recently about whether schools should be required by law to allow children to wear the veil. The debate was supposed to be about school uniform, and whether this should be the same for everyone, but the crux of the matter was the veil.
My opponent was a young man whose bushy beard had ‘Wahhabi’ written all over it.
My argument was as follows. I can tolerate the headscarf. I don’t believe it’s an Islamic requirement, but I will accept that some women want to wear it as a sign of their own self-respect and self-esteem, to set themselves apart from those women who let it all hang out for everyone to see. They have the right to do this, of their own free will, if they so choose.
Like the Sikh turban and Jewish yarmulke, the headscarf can be a permitted addition to a school uniform, in the appropriate colour and regulated style. After all, Catholic women in Italy, Spain and France wear a headscarf in church – there’s nothing weird about it. Some Islamic women just choose to wear one all the time.
But on the veil, my opinion is entirely different. The veil is vile. It is totally un-Islamic, a Byzantine innovation, and it is a form of self-oppression. Even if women apparently want to wear it, it is an unacceptable form of medievalism and it causes separation, segregation and fear in a society which is already under much strain from the tensions with its Islamic components.
British society has been incredibly restrained and tolerant despite the 7/7 outrage, and these veil advocates are going too far. It’s as if these idiots didn’t even notice (or care?) that 7/7 happened and don’t have the sensitivity and intelligence to realise that now is not the time for Muslims to be making more waves.
Children don’t have a natural desire to wear the veil. These children are being brainwashed and used as pawns by their parents and by some sinister organisations, lurking in the background, who have no investment in the future well-being, stability and peace of this country (they want the opposite, in fact). Putting children in the veil is condemning them to a life of no significance, no success, no prosperity and no joy. But that is how these people think, in their twisted puritan logic. This life should be pious and miserable (don’t expect any happiness or free will) so that the next life can be all the better. What’s the logical next step in this train of thought? ….
My argument in the debate was that the veil is cultural, not Islamic, and we don’t have to tolerate it, accommodate it or allow it.
My bearded opponent jumped on that immediately. He kept harking on that ‘Islamic scholars’ have declared that the veil is Islamic, although he couldn’t provide the Qur’anic reference when I asked for it. (There isn’t one, trust me – this has been looked at for years. The Qur’an asks both men and women not to overtly flaunt their bodies purely for the attention of others; what great advice that is in today’s world, where so many people suffer from deep insecurity about their appearance. We have to find our own comfortable middle ground).
The Wahhabi and I were both operating from the same false assumption, which was that if something is cultural, then it’s optional, but if it’s Islamic (or religious), then it can’t be argued with. So he was trying to argue that the veil is Islamic and I was arguing that it’s a regressive cultural practice.
But in retrospect, I should have argued the following. In a civilised society, without a state-imposed theology, we do not have to treat all cultural or religious requirements equally and give them unquestioning acceptance. We have to evaluate each on its own merits, irrespective of any alleged religious authority, and if it does not fit with our general acceptance of what is fair, just and in accordance with human rights and equal rights, then we do not have to allow it. The religious zealots can argue all they like, but religion alone is not a reason to allow something. Those ignorant barbaric people – some Muslim, some Christian, some Animist – who practise female genital mutilation and assert ‘This is our religion – you cannot argue!’ are wrong. We can argue and we can prohibit.
I should also have said to the Wahhabi (in the presence of our female radio host) that since God created Woman, did He not intend that she should feel the sun on her face and body, and the wind in her hair, and even the gentle caress of the rain? Did He not intend that she should be allowed to play tennis, jog and swim? Did He not intend that she should have a life worth living?
But it was a live radio debate and it’s easy to think of things I should have said afterwards.