Donate to my Legal Fund

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Veiling the real issues

Here's my piece from the Guardian Comment is Free website on a debate that isn't really worth having.

In that wonderful, but neglected Stanley Kramer masterpiece, Ship of Fools, the morose baseball star played by Lee Marvin is asked by the dwarf, Glocken, what's troubling him. Marvin says that he's depressed because can't hit a home run. Glocken, ever the philosopher, points out to Marvin that the vast majority of people in the world probably wouldn't even know what a home run was.

I thought of Marvin's conversation with the dwarf when reading the headlines of a popular tabloid yesterday, which informed us that 98% of its readers thought the Muslim veil should be banned. Because, I'd wager, until Jack Straw expressed his opinions on the issue, the vast majority of people in Britain wouldn't even have known what a Muslim veil was.

The furore over the dress of a tiny minority of people in these islands has dominated news headlines for over a fortnight. Columnists in every newspaper in the land have felt obliged to express an opinion: whether or not the hijab should be banned has become the burning issue of the day. But the only proper response to this artificially stoked up "debate" is to refuse to enter into it.

The rights and wrongs of the hijab were far from my mind last Saturday, when along with scores of other race-goers I waited in vain for the 17.17 from Ipswich to Cambridge to arrive at Newmarket station. It never arrived, like the hundreds of other trains that are cancelled every week in the country which has the most expensive, but also the least efficient public transport system in the developed world.

Waiting for trains that never arrive, (or if they do, arrive very late); or being stuck in traffic jams on gridlocked roads is the daily reality of life for millions of Britons. Yet neither Jack Straw or Tony Blair feel any need to make public pronouncements on such issues. Nor is there a murmur from the opposition. Until politicians start to address the issues that do have an impact on our everyday lives, we shouldn't waste a nanosecond debating those that don't.


TheRedLeopard said...

The Romans diverted the masses with bread and circuses. This lot give us veils and 'The War on Terror'.

David Lindsay said...

The niqab does not appear to be of Islamic origin at all: it was a status symbol among upper-class women in the (of course, Christian) Byzantine Empire, enabling them to walk the streets without being mistaken for street-walkers. As Islam conquered that Empire's Levantine and North African provinces, this, among much else, was taken on. But it almost certainly has absolutely nothing to do with Islam as such.

By all means let both men and women dress modestly. I do not want to see practically naked girls falling down drunk in the gutter, and I see no reason to regard them as having been liberated, but the very reverse. However, I object in the strongest possible terms to the idea that, simply because one finds women sexually attractive, one might jump on any woman if one can see anything more of her than her eyes. This is just as objectionable as the genital mutilation of male infants, and the sale of adolescent boys to the highest bidder through the dowry system.