Allan Takes Aim Blog

Anything goes but only when it suits

Posted on: 28 July 2009


Published The Chronicle Tuesday July 14, 2009  

Some men and women in the West with knickers in a knot about Islam are advocating the banning of the Arabic burqa, a woman’s garment and integral to the belief of some Muslims that all of a woman’s body except the eyes, must be protected from male attention. The burqa achieves this but also covers the eyes with a fine mesh veil. Among the arguments used to justify banning is that the burqa is anti democratic, demeans women and also deprives them of their human rights.

And yet another Arabic woman’s garment is also in the firing line: the hajib. The hajib, similar to the burqa, does not cover the face although on certain occasions Muslim women wear it with a niqab (veil).

The argument that the burqa deprives women of their human rights sounds like censoriousness and more of an excuse to disguise dislike of Islam than it does a proposal to benefit Muslim women. If it isn’t then clearly the proposers of banning do not understand democracy, which grants people the fundamental human right to practice their religion without interference. That said, it seems to me, that when Muslim women wear burqa or hijab and veil, they are exercising that human right.

 Such censoriousness seems only to apply to Muslim women, as I remember being taught by an order of Catholic nuns whose habit, to all intents and purposes, was a hijab, while Nuns in other Catholic orders also wore a veil with their habit. I understand some still do.

 And if only to demonstrate the silliness of the proposed banning argument, look at any picture of the Virgin Mary – a Jewess – but revered by Catholics, and you see a lady dressed in a hajib, which for centuries has been a traditional garment for many Middle Eastern women, Arab – Muslim or not – Jewish and Persian (now Iranian). And it was worn then for the same reasons as Nuns and Muslim women wear it today: it is integral to their modesty and their religion.

Islamic terrorism is also another reason why some people in Western Democracies want burqas, hijabs and niqads banned, conveniently forgetting that for centuries Western women have been dressing in similar style.

One can see this by looking at the dress of women in paintings through the ages. As age after age passes, you will see that female dress – prostitute’s excepted – remains hijab in style. That it remained so was because women of modesty were highly valued in society.

 When western women discarded the formal hijab they replaced it with a headscarf and/or hat and veil and dresses that covered women from neck to toe, a dress style that remained in vogue until early in the twentieth century. Even then it was brave woman who went out without a hat – with or without a veil – or headscarf wearing a dress that didn’t cover them from neck to toe.

 By the late thirties however, head scarves and hats were disappearing (veils were still worn at weddings and funerals), skirts were shorter and modesty had all but vanished, as Cole Porter wrote in his song from the thirties musical “Anything Goes.”  “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on a something shocking, now God knows, anything goes.” While the song shocked many it delighted many more. However it must be said that the demand for modesty remained. It still does

Equally nonsensical are arguments that burqas and hajibs be banned because Arab terrorists use them as disguises and Muslim women fear the reaction of husbands/fathers and brothers if they don’t. Both are flimsy arguments. First: because men have been disguising themselves as women – and women as men – for centuries. Second: because as an argument it does not fit well in a democratic and allegedly multicultural country because religion being an essential part of a culture, it is nonsensical to call for the banning of something integral to that culture.

Let me say that if Australia bans the burqa, hajib and niqab then, on principle, it should also ban the Nun’s habit, all religious dress and anything else that people of particular persuasions find dangerous and/or offensive who believe “anything goes” only when it suits them.

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2 Responses to "Anything goes but only when it suits"

When France’s Vth Republic banned the veil in public schools and for people working in Government employment (they are free to put it back on, at the door, or the gate, on their way out – it is not banned in the street) for reasons of “ostentatious religious symbolism”, the wearing of big crosses and crucifixes in public schools and Government departments were also banned. People are still allowed to wear “discrete” symbols of their religion – a small cross, a small star of David, etc. in Government-controlled places. On the other hand, these bans only apply to laics. People consecrated to the pervading energy sometimes called God, sometimes other things, are excluded. They can wear whatever is dictated by their religion. The idea being that, if they have dedicated themselves to God, etc., and deliberately set themselves apart from the general community, they must be prepared for discrimination and possible martyrdom. Laics have to be “protected” from such things. Particularly children. It all has something to do with individual members of the general public not provoking the collective ire of the other members of it. We used to incite people to tolerance. France doesn’t think that its population is capable of that any more.

Marylin,
As ever your comments are a good blog by themselves but with the France seeming to take a less than tolerant view they are highly relevant. And even though it is a couple pof years since the column was published let’s hope that today they stir up debate on what is becoming an increasingly serious issue.

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