Yes I’m actually going to write about the thing I said I would write about in the previous blog post rather than frothing about something that sidetracked me in the intervening seven days.
The issue of covering the face with a veil is entering a phase of hysteria. That potent mix of fear and racism tinged with guilt and prejudice sprinkled with stupidity is all covered over with the sauce of media-induced faux public anxiety to create a journalistic wet dream. Column inches and radio minutes just ooze with bland rhetorical questions masquerading as ‘a reflection of current public concern’.
Boring as it may be, lacking in drama, devoid of panic, couldn’t we just try and re-establish a sense of proportion and priority?
The rational and therefore un-newsworthy response to this subject is surely that women should be supported in this country to go without the veil IF THEY SO WISH.
Throwing round the notion of criminalising veiling by Muslim women instantly propels it into a disproportionately high profile political fire cracker that can be set off randomly for a variety of reasons; to fill a lazy news day, create a distraction, give politicians with nothing real to talk about something to exercise their jaws with and so on. But it also fuels the right-wing nutters, makes the Muslim community feel more under siege and in fact will encourage many younger Muslim women to adopt the veil when they might not otherwise have done as a way of thumbing their noses at western insincerity.
As mentioned last week the idea that we need to be able to ‘read’ each other’s faces is an interesting one on so many levels. Even a cursory examination of this particular red-herring exposes just how mendacious its proponents are being.
Are we going to bar men from wearing beards?
Are we going to ban Botox?
Are we going to outlaw facelifts and fillers and anything else that might zombiefy human features?
Are we going to prevent professional men from wearing those expensive suits that give the impression of alpha male power to every slack-arsed, bloaty bellied soon-to-have-a-heart-attack oik?
Imagine you are on the bus and someone farts. You glance round to spy the guilty party who exposed the rest of the unfortunate passengers to last night’s poorly digested curry. You suspect the heavily made-up woman now peering with glazed eyes out of the misted window but – how can you ever tell? She may be blushing under that caked-on foundation but you will never know!
Celebrities must be banned from wearing those large dark sunglasses. For all we know, behind that barrier they may be wearing an expression that suggests they actually don’t care two figs for the fans surging round them screaming and clamouring for autographs.
In my experience, professionals are often masters of the uncommunicative visage. Several years ago a dentist broke off my tooth when she was supposed to be filling it. Ok – these things happen. But when I returned to the practice repeatedly complaining about hideous pain she stared at me blankly as if she had no idea what was wrong. Once she looked me in the eye with absolute directness and told me I was imagining the pain, which by that point was so bad I could neither sleep nor chew. A fortnight later a small chunk of metal fell out of my mouth – causing unbelievable relief. A new dentist mentioned, to my utter surprise, that the tooth was broken and the metal had been filling the gap! Clearly dentist no. 1 had her own kind of veil.
The commonsense answer to this issue is education on both sides – those who suddenly decided it was threatening to see veiled women and those women who may feel pressured into covering their faces when they would otherwise not. But for the government in its panicked attempt to appeal to those who may respond to the current bandwagon to start kicking this one round is dangerous. As for the so called opposition, they are hedging their bets for fear of losing the position of not-being-quite-so-bad-as-the-government. It is unconscionable.
There are more pressing problems.
Half of us are dying of obesity while the processed food industry goes unchecked. Too many children are on Ritalin. Gambling is embedding itself into normal life as a new cancer. Misogyny is flourishing. We have lost international credibility in parts of the world that are currently undergoing radical change. We are living in ways that are economically and environmentally unsustainable. Western young women are mutilating their bodies in the pursuit of unrealistic fantasy perfection. Public sector morale is at rock bottom. I’ll stop there.
Is a bit of cloth over a woman’s face really the crucial topic of the moment? And, for argument’s sake if it is, is media and political frenzy the way to deal with it?