I’m sure you’ve seen this on the news or Twitter or Facebook or…..well pretty much anywhere really; there are probably even subterranean life forms debating Boris Johnson’s unfortunate comment at the moment. Do I mean ‘unfortunate’? Actually I’m not sure I do as that would imply that there was some element of bad luck involved whereas this was less to do with luck and more to do with judgement….or lack thereof.
There is no doubt in my mind that the subject of banning the burka (or actually the niqab as that’s what the veil is called) is one that needs to be discussed in an adult and rational manner. Unfortunately a somewhat tactless politician and the British media got involved so the whole thing has descended into mud slinging and foot stamping with some accusations of racism thrown in for good measure.
What makes it worse (or ironic if you prefer) is that both sides are arguing the same thing but from different sides – oppression.
- If women are not allowed to wear the burka and/or niqab their rights to free expression are being trampled on and that’s an act of oppression
- Women who are forced to wear the burka and/or niqab are being oppressed full stop
This gives us a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation for Governments who are trying to decide whether a ban is a good idea or not. Personally I am not a great one for ‘banning’ anything and I think that Governments interfere far too much in the lives of ordinary people to the point where thinking for oneself seems to be actively dissuaded. With that in mind I decided to look into the origins of the veil to see if a solution could be found that would be agreeable to both sides.
Oddly enough, the first quote from the Qur’an I came across is actually directed at men and not women and was an instruction from Allah to the Prophet Muhammed:
““Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them.”
This exact command was also then given to women. The message is clear; as was the norm 1300+ years ago, women should be modest in their dress and behaviour and men should not look lustfully at women (other than their wives). This seems fair and reasonable as it applies to both men and women and implies that there should be mutual respect between them. However, I fail to see how and instruction to both men and women about keeping their eyes downcast has translated to women covering everything but their eyes (except in some countries such as Saudi Arabia where even that may be required).
The next quote offered as evidence for the wearing of the veil was this one:
““…and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khumur over their bosoms…”
The khumur is a head-covering so we can assume that the advice is to allow the ends to trail over the chest area thereby covering up the breasts or that the head covering should/could be used to cover the breasts. Again, 1300 years ago pretty much ALL women wore head coverings and some, in the UK for example, wore veils and wimples (like those still worn by nuns today). However, for me (and I admit I am no religious scholar) this still does not indicate that a woman’s face should be covered; ‘except what is apparent’ would lead me to think of the face as ALL women, at the time, covered their hair and bodies as a sign of modesty.
My conclusion from this is that IF women choose to cover their bodies and their hair for whatever reason, whether it be religion or personal modesty, more power to them, it is not for any of us, male or female, to dictate what anyone else should wear. However, as covering the face completely does not appear to be a requirement on religious grounds and creates a security problem, as we not cannot identify the wearer, it would not seem unreasonable to ban the niqab.
What we should perhaps avoid (take note Boris) is taking a highly emotive subject and making an, honestly, pretty weak joke about it. It didn’t offend me (although I can see how it would offend others) and I think that it has been blown out of all proportion by the media (surprise, surprise) but this really was a case of ‘engage brain before opening gob’! Free speech should be something that we all hang on to for dear life as, without it, we are destined to end up like Winston Smith but, if you stick your finger in a hornet’s nest, you have to accept you’re going to get stung. I think Boris is probably used to being stung and doesn’t a great deal but it’s a shame that his words have pretty much buried the opportunity to have a sensible discussion; ho hum! politics would be so much easier without politicians ;O)
This is all just my opinion based on what I’ve read on the subject; I’d love to hear yours!