Sunday, October 22, 2006

Veiled comments

My dad and sister once had a discussion about the cheapest food (no, I don't know why either). Dad said it was chicken, my sister said it was baked beans. My dad's selection was based on certain criteria e.g. the cheapest food which didn't sacrifice tastiness, nutrition, versatility and so on. My sister simply picked the cheapest food in Tesco.

They were both correct in their selection, but even though they appeared to be having the same discussion, they were arguing to different hypotheses. It reminds me of this veil debate. Most women do not wear a veil to cover their faces, in fact, few Muslim women wear the veil. Therefore it is not the norm to do so. Norms offer comfort areas in which most people (within any given society) are happy to live. People covering their faces is not the norm and therefore the custom moves people out of their comfort zone. Therefore, Jack Straw et al are simply stating that it is not something they're comfortable with because perceive that it offers a barrier.

And it is a barrier. I don't know much about Islamic law, but my understanding is that one of the purposes of the veil is to put a barrier between the woman and any unmarried man, therefore it is correct to say that it's a barrier. It is also a barrier in the sense it confirms, in no uncertain terms, the difference between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim.

This is a simple anthropological point; in UK society anything which is perceived as a barrier is outside comfort zones defined by the norm. The response, however, is made in religious terms. People like Aishah Azmi argue that this is demonising their faith. To be honest, I'm guessing the number of people with serious intentions of bringing down the Muslim faith in the UK in tiny. Most people just don't want to feel uncomfortable.

In other words, there isn't a shared understanding about what the debate is, let alone the resolution. It's like me turning up to a rugby field in cricket whites and getting upset at the rough tackling.


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