Human Rights,  Islamism

To know a veil for what it is

I think grown adults should be able to wear what the hell they like short of exposing their genitalia to people who don’t welcome it. Of course, it is equally valid for dress codes to be set as conditions of entry or participation. It is not unreasonable that a bank requires one to remove a helmet or balaclava before entering. Nor is it unreasonable that a swanky restaurant asks male diners to wear ties, or bans trainers, or that a building site requires employees to wear boots and a helmet. It is not a breach of one’s rights to be required to wear a uniform in certain jobs, or to remove other items of clothing or jewelry in order to participate in certain activities. But what one wears in the streets or in one’s own home, one should be left alone to do.

Having said that, I am under no illusion that the hijab is anything but a form of religious oppression. I find it particularly upsetting when, in the heat of summer, I see Muslim men wearing fashionable and season-appropriate clothing while their wives trail behind in a black tent. But, if some adult women choose to be oppressed in this way, that’s their business, not mine. But it is curious that primarily male Islamists – though of course often fronted by fundamentalist women – have made it a “human rights issue” to “defend” this “right”. Only a fool would believe that this is out of genuine concern for women’s rights rather than a means of providing an acceptable cover for perpetuating patriarchal domination. Acceptable, that is, to the confused cultural-relativist faux-liberal mindset.

I have noticed an escalation in these demands. First there was a call to “defend” the hijab. Now there is a call to do the same for the niqab – which covers the whole face, effectively cutting a woman off from society in the most basic way – and, I’m pretty sure, a demand to accept the full burqa, Taliban-style, can’t be far off.

To repeat. I think a consenting adult should be able to wear what they like subject to reasonable limits, but I won’t pretend there is anything innocent about the niqab. I won’t pretend that it is merely a neutral item of cultural apparel and is in no way designed to oppress and exclude women.

Polly Toynbee puts it very well:

No one need be a Muslim to understand the ideology of the veil, because covering and controlling women has been a near-universal practice in Christian societies and in most cultures and religions the world over. Western women have struggled hard to escape, but not long ago women here were treated as chattels and temptresses, to be owned by men and kept out of men’s way, to be chaperoned, hidden, powerless under compulsory rules of “modesty”. Women’s bodies have been the battle flag of religions, whether it’s churching their uncleanness, the Pope forcing them to have babies, the Qur’an allowing wife-beating, Hindu suttee, Chinese foot-binding and all the rest.

Jack Straw questioned the veil when he found it was not fading out, but increasing in his constituency. No one would ban it in the street: where would fashion dictatorship end? But between teachers and pupils, or public officials and their clients, the state should not allow the hiding of women. No citizen’s face can be indecent because of gender.

Prescott, Hewitt, Kelly, Hain and others failed the test, saying it was women’s “choice”: can they really believe that’s the whole story? Here is an uneasy blend of nervousness about racism and fear of already angry Muslims. It was left to Harriet Harman to make the unequivocal case for women’s rights: “If you want equality, you have to be in society, not hidden away from it,” she said. “The veil is an obstacle to women’s participation on equal terms in society.” No nonsense about choice. It took feminist leaders like her to fight for women’s rights, often against a majority of oppressed women who at first “chose” to think them outlandish and unfeminine.

It is therefore a surprise that a charity for which Polly Toynbee serves as an ambassador, is hosting a meeting promoted by the fake human rights organisation (the Islamic Human Rights Commission) and organised by a wing of a clerical-fascist party (Sisters of Hizb-ut Tahrir Britain) in their hall.  This Islamist rally opposes the supposed  “attack on the niqab”.

Yes, the not coincidentally-named Toynbee Hall in East London is hosting this meeting.

The IHRC tries to pretend that attempts to eradicate the niqab are attacks on Islam. That the veil – for women – is a religious obligation, and – most disgracefully – that the initiative to defend it comes from Muslim women themselves. Their leaflet says:

We are living in a time when many Islamic belief and obligations are being attacked. without political awareness we may fall into the trap of supporting the niqab ban because we believe it is not obligation. or we may defend it from the basis of freedom which is a secular value. as Muslim women we must respond! The question is HOW? this requires us to be aware of the issues surroundings the niqab and the impact of such attacks. this talk will equip us with practical ways to respond in a clear and strong manner while remaining steadfast to the truth.

It is disgraceful that Toynbee Hall is hosting this type of meeting. I am certain the IHRC can find enough fundamentalist women to front this. But consider this. This is a reaction to events in Egypt, not in the UK. Therefore this meeting acts as two things. It’s a pilot light for the Islamist political agenda and it is a warning to Muslim women in Britain not to get too many ‘feminist’ ideas because universities in a majority Muslim country like Egypt are denying that a niqab is a religious requirement.

Toynbee Hall has a proud tradition of standing up to fascism and oppression and standing up for the marginalised and oppressed. To see them now providing the means for patriarchal and illiberal political groupings to seek new subterfuges for their continued oppression of women is depressing. And a little sickening.

The mission statement of Toynebee Hall states that they produce “practical innovative programmes to meet the needs of local people, improve conditions and enable communities to fulfil their potential.” Yet, women are unlikely to “fulfil their potential” if held back by archaic and oppressive religious “requirements”.

I do hope Polly Toynbee reconsiders her patronage of Toynbee Hall if something isn’t done to stop this disgrace.

Marconi apparently demonstrated his wireless for the first time in the UK at Toynbee Hall. It is a pity that an institution once so forward-looking now looks backwards.