I'll show you mine if you show me yours

Niqab from the BBCAt The Sharpener, Sunny dissects the issues surrounding Jack Straw’s comments that Muslim women should not wear the full veil (niqab).

George Galloway’s suggests that women are being asked to “disrobe.” (via PP) I know there is a relativism to all of this, but I simply cannot get past the notion that a person’s face is essential to the way they communicate, in a way that their breasts, buttocks, or indeed hair, simply are not.

Furthermore – who is relative to who? I’ve dug up an interesting article by Matthew Parris from last year, where he declares

Never mind what the woman thinks, wearing a veil is offensive to me

I have a similar feeling. I say to these women: Why do you deny me your smile? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

29 Replies to “I'll show you mine if you show me yours”

  1. A significant portion of our communication is non-verbal. Something around 7% of the message is contained in the words we speak – the rest is contained in tone of voice and body language and that includes facial expression.

    While I would support anyone’s right to wear whatever they want to wear (providing it is, indeed, their choice), I also support Jack Straw’s stance on asking people to remove veils when talking to him in his surgery. People are fond of spouting “respect”. To talk to someone while covering one’s face is, frankly, disrespectful towards the listener.

    George Galloway and his ilk are engaging in hysteria. No surprise there, then.

  2. Well said, Rob. As a child, I found images such as the one you posted rather frightening, because those kind of “veils” disguise a person’s identity, and why would someone want to do that? Perhaps if it was the norm here I might feel differently, but it is not. To me, someone who wears that veil is saying “I don’t want to engage with you”, and therefore, I wouldn’t want to engage with them, frankly. That is my naiive view, wishing I lived in the ideal world.

    Then again, as a female, one can’t help noticing that males in particular, but people in general do respond differently to one, depending on one’s personal appearance, and that includes one’s face. By wearing a veil, you deny people the opportunity to decide if you’re pretty enough to pay any attention to, or pretty enough to make an unwanted sexual advance towards – what man is going to make a come-on when you could perfectly well turn out to be a minger? I can see how this would be frustrating in a culture where such prejudice is so automatic, and so embedded in the very air we breathe as to be almost invisible. But from a pragmatic viewpoint, where I find the male gaze oppressive and prejudicial, don’t I have the right to evade it? Perhaps if women didn’t have to run the gauntlet of men’s sexuality every time they step outside the door, to go about their private business, the veil wouldn’t seem such an attractive option. It removes the oppressive hierarchy of male-determined female “beauty”. However, I bet if I suddenly started wearing a veil because I couldn’t cope with the male gaze, it would be viewed as a pathological disorder.

    I think part of the problem with veils is that they are gender-based. Where veils are religiously motivated and related to notions of “chastity”, they are oppressive and wrong, and must be opposed.

    If women mask their face, then why don’t men? Because masking one’s face is anti-social. There are laws in many places against wearing masks for just this reason. There seems to be a chasm between viewing women as people (the ideal world), and and excessive focus on the sexuality aspect (the real world), both of which prevail at different times and in different places.

  3. This is a matter of manners and customs. The rule usually is to follow local customs. Exceptions are made for matters related to religious convictions. For example, the Amish refuse to use cars, so they relie on horse drawn buggies. Waring a veil may be a matter of custom, but it is not a matter of religious law. Jack Straw has a right to ask that the veil be removed. Quite appart from the communications problems the veil presents, it is offensive because it represents a declaration of the subordination of women. Even if Muslims are offended we have a right to talk about that.

  4. I was a bit surprised at your views on this subject. I don’t feel at all offended if a woman chooses to wear the veil. Just as I am not offended by seeing a young or even less young woman exposing her midriff or wearing a bikini or even the young man I saw this morning in a shop window wearing nothing but a pair of underpants presumably advertising the brand. I agree it makes communication a bit more difficult but not impossible. Blind people manage to communicate perfectly well and all telephone conversations and radio programmnes are perfectly understandable without any visual input. As long as the woman is wearing the veil because she chooses to do and not because she is forced to do so so its fine by me. I heard a young Muslim woman on the radio saying she wears the veil because it makes her feel closer to her God. She may have to accept that other people will feel less close to her if she is wearing a veil but that is her choice. I can’t see what all the fuss is about. So, its a sign of difference, viva la difference I say.

  5. Granny how do you know that women ware these absurd outfits by choice? I suspect this is decided by the woman’s husband, and that if she refuses to ware the veil, her husband will beat the shit out of her. By pretending that women ware those things out of choice, you are an enabler of the subordination of women.

  6. Some odd notions spring to mind.
    What kind of passport photo does a woman wearing full veil have to show?
    Should western women showing rather more than most of us want to see be asked to cover up?

  7. Charles! I can’t believe you said the S-word to a granny! They lived sheltered lives in the old days you know.

    Also, I really want you to say “wear”, not “ware” because it will make your arguments stronger.

  8. What the fuck is Straw doing and, far more importantly, Why is he doing it? Does he want a Fatwa on his ass or on this country? “Never mind what the woman thinks, wearing a veil is offensive to me”. Sorry asshole, I can’t help the way you feel. Cooked liver and kidney are offensive to me. So what. Anybody should be allowed to wear anything, unless at passport control, banks – for security type issues and other exceptional situations. What would really be great for this debate is if there were a spate of armed robberies by people, men or woman, wearing the full-on burka. The identity parades would be very, very funny.

    As with Steve Irwin (who maliciously goaded and provoked animals to get a great televisual response), if you want to get a reaction, you’ll get one. Steve Irwin got his.

  9. Charles, I think I made it clear that I only support the wearing of the veil if it is the womans choice and certainly what I have read in the media and heard on the radio from Muslim women is that they are choosing to wear the veil. Of course you can’t believe everything you read in the papers but I would need positive evidence from Muslim women in this country that they are being coerced into wearing the veil, which I would certainly strongly object to, to change my views.
    I appreciate Clarice’s (tonguein cheek) concern about the use of the s word but I am robust and certainly do not take offence at language and would support Charles’ right to use whatever language he chooses!

  10. I considered my choice of words carefully. Perhaps I should have said beat her until she looses control of her excreatory functions. In Texas women are not so refinded that you cannot say shit in front of them., In Texas the feminist revolution was interpreted to mean that women did not have to obey their husbands, to be free from spousal beatings, and to hear and use profanity.

    As for the freedom of Muslim women to chose in every day matters like dress, here is what an Islamic web page advises:

    “What the Qur’an has directed is that when a person fears an attitude of “Nushooz” (refusal to accept the position of the other person) from his wife, he should adopt the process mentioned in Al-Nisaa 4: 34. In this process, if he thinks that a light beating may result in improving the situation, he may opt for it. However, as far as determining what exactly is and what is not a situation where a wife can be said to have adopted an attitude of “Nushooz” has been left on people to decide. Thus, I may think that such and such situation amounts to “Nushooz” while another person may not.”

    So under Islamic Law wives are expected to obey their husbands. Every husaband can freely choose to beat his wife without legal problems. No doubt the definition of a “light beating” in Islamic Law is just as problematic. If the Muslim woman in question may be legally beaten by her hyusband if she chooses to reveal her face, how can we say that this is a matter of free choice.

    Covering the face in my country often symblizes intent to engage in criminal activity. But in the case of Muslim women it may symbolize being a victim of a crime.

  11. It is not Islamic law which requires women to cover their faces, but certain customs. Certain cultures, e.g. that of Saudi Arabia enforce this custom by law, but it is not universal to Islam.

  12. A Jay, re. Jack Straw :”Why is he doing it? Does he want a Fatwa on his ass or on this country?

    Umm….So are you saying that people who make death threats are engaging in a debate that deserves to be taken seriously? Are you saying that certain religious groups are above the law? Are you saying that we should have to censor our beliefs and our speech in case it makes someone want to kill us.

    Let us leave the responsibility for violent acts where it belongs: on the shoulders of those who do or threaten them.

  13. Dear Charles Barton

    Yes, I have heard stories like the circumstances you describe.

    But did you know, in the USA, 3000 women die every single day at the hands of violent (american) men. That is more, I think, than all the people who died on 9/11 put together.

    What does that tell you, I wonder? Is there a double-standard going on, do you think?

  14. I would just like also to say something to Granny Rose about choice. Where there is implicit cultural pressure to wear a veil, or to not wear a veil, one is of course technically “free to choose”, but I am not sure how free such a choice actually is.

    Therefore, unless a woman is in a society where her choice of veil-wearing will not cause her any ill effects, eg stigma, rejection, insult, mockery, shame on the family, or worse, then I do not think it is really a free choice.

    It’s a bit like telling someone they can do anything they like, but that you’ll be really disappointed if they don’t do what you say. Only worse.

    I think the freedom of choice argument has been used to support many bad things against women, eg footbinding, FGM, cosmetic surgery, and so forth. Women “choose” to do it, so it must be ok. But I don’t think Hobson’s choice is any kind of choice at all.

  15. Clarice,

    I agree with Tim: 3000 women a day is 1 million per year….

    A Jay:

    “Cooked liver and kidney are offensive to me. So what.”
    So if someone forced cooked liver and kidney on you, you would object and call them insensitive.

    “Anybody should be allowed to wear anything,”
    And? Can you point to the bit where anyone has said anything that suggests otherwise? Particularly when the undertone here is that some Muslim women are indeed forced to wear something that they do not.

    ” unless at passport control, banks – for security type issues and other exceptional situations. “
    Except of course that all these would be examples of coercion – where the woman would be REQUIRED to remove her veil. What exactly is the relevance here when Straw said quite clearly that he requests but does NOT require the removal of the veil?

    Granny Rose:

    “I agree it makes communication a bit more difficult but not impossible. “
    Why make things more difficult than they need to be?

    “Blind people manage to communicate perfectly well and all telephone conversations and radio programmnes are perfectly understandable without any visual input.”
    But we recognise that blind people are indeed at a disadvantage and we – if we are nice – make efforts to mitigate this. What we don’t do is pander to people who choose to make their own lives difficult then expect us to compensate for/indulge them.

    “I heard a young Muslim woman on the radio saying she wears the veil because it makes her feel closer to her God.”
    And that’s great.

    ” She may have to accept that other people will feel less close to her if she is wearing a veil but that is her choice. “
    But it is NOT Jack Straw’s choice. Jack Straw is saying that he will be able to be of greater assistance to those who desire it if they remove the veil when they choose to come to talk to him. If our veil wearer wants to be close to her God, perhaps she could ask her God for help? If she wants help from Jack Straw, perhaps she could try to get closer to Jack Straw?


  16. Clarice, I do not sanction violence aginst women in the United States or anywhere else. As far as I know no religion being practiced in the United States asside from Islam allows husbands to beat there wives. As for your claim that 3 thousand American women dying every day from domestic violence, all i can say is get a grip. It might be 3 thousand women a year – which of course is far to many – but one million women a year?

  17. An estimated two thirds of domestic violewnce deaths in the United States are attributed to fire arms. Interestingly, under American law, spouses who are conviceted of domestic violence related charges loose the right to own fire arms.

  18. Oh how embarrassing! I havent’ been getting a lot of sleep lately.

    Yes, it is per year:

    “roughly the same number of women are murdered by men in the US each year as were killed in the Twin Towers (between 2,800 and 3,000).”

    Those numbers of course are not limited to “domestic violence”. I presume they include cases like prostitutes murdered by customers or pimps, the victims of serial sex killers and so forth as well.

  19. Robert 3000 was a guess. in 2000 the reported number of women killed in domestic violence was 1247. Two thirds would make the number of fire arms deaths for women in 2000 something over 800. I am not aware of evidence that the number of deaths due to domestic violence in the United States has increased substantually since 2000. If it had, we would surely hear.

  20. My objections to the whole thing is that it is becoming political – why?
    On Question Time, when this was discussed – an interesting point – does wearing the veil mean that the weraer tars ALL men with the same brush, as apparently they can leave the veil off in front of women?
    As for Blind people, their other senses are heightened, whereas as we, addressing a veil wearer are at a disadvantage as we can SEE but not enough apparently. I am afraid we cannot say whether a woman is wearing the veil because she is making a completely uninfluenced choice – an influenced choice or from terror, obedience or whatever.
    I think it could have been sorted “in-house” – apparently she did not wear the veil at the interview so circumstances arose where the school felt she was not doing her job properly – this should have been investigated along any other lines JS wading in didn’t help not AB either

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