Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Who gave birth to who? And does anyone care?

Interesting that the italian Northern League would like to ban women from wearing the niqab in public, the Islamic veil that fully covers the face. I thought at first this was just racism. The Northern League, after all, doesn’t like anyone very much outside its own circles. No time for non-Italians, obviously, but even among Italians it doesn’t have much time for Southerners. And the South, I expect, starts not far below Venice. In fact, since this initiative comes from the League in the Veneto, I rather suspect it’s backed by people who don’t like anyone from outside that province.

Since they probably only rate men, as long as they’re straight – no gays here, please – and I suspect only the ones from the cities, and they no doubt appreciate wealth, you’ll probably find that the only people they feel drawn to are a few dozen of the richest, middle-aged men, living in cities like Padua and Venice itself. Since some of those vote for other parties, that means that the people they might actually bring themselves to like can probably be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. Since those are the very people who are their rivals for power within the Northern League, I can’t imagine that they trust even them much.

So hatred for pretty much everyone in the human race, when all’s said and done.
However, the League made it clear that they were not motivated by racism at all. At the back of the initiative is a security concern. How can you check the identify of a woman – if it is a woman – who has her face completely covered?

So that’s all right then.

And yet, and yet. Places like Saudi Arabia had a bit of a bad time from terrorism and they sorted it out without banning the niqab. They found other solutions.

One can’t help feeling there might be a touch of anti-Islamic sentiment here. It’s hard to believe, though. These guys are Catholics, after all. The central doctrine of the Catholic Church in its present form came from Thomas Aquinas. And where did he get his principles from? Why, from the great Moslem scholar Averroes. How could Catholics hold Moslems in anything but veneration?

Of course, if you go back further, you’ll find that the very founder of the religion was Jewish. The New Testament never stops talking about Christ’s work amongst the Jews, his preaching to the Jews, his desire to reform and renew the Jewish faith. The debt of Christians generally, and Catholics in particular, to the Jews is undeniable.

That’s no doubt why, when things get tough for the Jews, they can always count on the unqualified support of the Catholics. Alongside the basic Christian desire to protect the oppressed, the Catholic sense of obligation to the Jews must have inspired Pius XII, Pope at the time of the Holocaust, to take such a courageous and uncompromising stand against the suffering being inflicted on the Jewish people by the Nazis.

Or – hang on – did I get that right? Maybe that wasn’t how it worked out. I’d better just go and check my facts.


Mark Reynolds said...

The goobers currently in charge of Canada tried to manufacture a scandal out of this same issue a couple of years ago; "The integrity of our democracy is at stake when veiled women vote! They could be anybody!" And so, they passed a law requiring that everyone present at least one photo i.d. when voting. Now, in addition to disenfranchising everyone without a photo i.d. (the poorest, and therefore those with more of a stake in the system, though least likely to vote Conservative), and ignoring thousands of Canadians like myself that vote by mail-in ballot without having to prove my identity to anyone, the legislation failed in one major aspect: it did not require that voters show their face. As our Chief Electoral Officer repeatedly attempted to explain to the cretins in Ottawa, yes, you now had to show an id, but there was no corresponding legal requirement to allow a poll station official to demand proof that it corresponded with the bearer.
Not to mention, the entire controversy was manufactured in the first place: there were exactly zero (0) reports of veiled women attempting voter fraud before the law was passed, and twice as many as that afterwards.
Not to mention, the self-appointed defenders of Parliamentary democracy had managed to forget that the system had managed to get on fine, more or less, for centuries without anyone possessing photo id.
All of which is somewhat off-topic, other than to indicate that ethnic women apparently haunt the nightmares of those red-blooded, meat-eating paragons of manly conservative values the world over. Freud would have a field day, I'm sure.

Awoogamuffin said...

"The central doctrine of the Catholic Church in its present form came from Thomas Aquinas. And where did he get his principles from? Why, from the great Moslem scholar Averroes."

In Out Time strikes again!

The whole veil argument is a real minefield. But I have to say that instinctively I like the argument that the veil is a symbol of female subjugation, and we should resist that kind of thing. Doing so with the law, however, is pretty heavy-handed.

David Beeson said...

Mark, you underline something that I feel a lot these days: given the instincts of some of the people who are out there defending our democracies, the people who are trying to destroy them already have half their work done for them.

Michael: I'm more than happy to acknowledge my debt to Melvyn Bragg. In our time certainly opened my eyes to the contribution Islam made to our culture, and which I had simply massively undervalued before.

But on the specific question of the veil, I think I also feel uncomfortable about it, and not just for the reason you give, that it represents a subjugation of women. Like Jack Straw, our Justice Secretary, I find it quite difficult to talk to someone in a veil: a veiled face is unreadable, and in our culture reading an expression is a key to communication, while not being able to feels quite threatening, like a masked face.

However, I find that the subjugation argument quickly falls apart: there are women, including many in Britain, who demand the right to wear the veil. Of course, we can say that they've been conditioned into supporting a symbol of their own subjugation, but that's a dangerous line to take. After all, we're all moulded by our pasts, and I'd hate it to be told that some cherished prejudice of mine is just a bigoted idea reflecting my upbringing, rather than the carefully considered and rational view I know it to be.

It feels a little condescending to the women who want to wear the veil to tell them that we think they've been brainwashed and therefore shouldn't do as they want. I note that you say that the law shouldn't be used to force them away from the veil, but I'm not even sure that we should use moral pressure on the issue. I think we have to believe them and if they demand the right to be veiled, accept that we are in no position to deny it to them.

And this is the core of the issue. I don't like the veil, either because of what it represents or because of the discomfort it causes me. But isn't that precisely the test of commitment to principles of tolerance? I feel I'm called upon to speak out in favour of a right that I don't like. It's easy to defend rights that make me feel comfortable; it's defending the ones that I dislike that is the real test.

It's the same with freedom of speech. It's easy to speak out in favour of the right to take a liberal viewpoint. It's much more difficult to defend the right to express views that are deeply objectionable. In Britain, there is a lot of criticism of the BBC for allowing the racist British National Party, which now has two Members of the European Parliament, on to its flaghsip 'Question Time' programme.

I think if you're serious about freedom of speech, you have to back the BBC. And if you're in favour of tolerance of other cultures, you have to speak out in favour of the right to wear the veil.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know how the Saudis deal with the problem. Juno?

David Beeson said...

More Jove than Juno, I suspect.

I don't think that their approach fully meets democratic standards of due process - don't they 'rehabilitate' their sympathisers with terrorism? They seem to be pretty effective, anyway, though I imagine that's more about good intelligence than their slightly draconian penal system.