Deep in the Moroccan Sahara bordering Algiers

Monday, 11 April 2011

It's Just a Piece of Cloth.

It’s Just A Piece Of Cloth.
Pressure is mounting for the government to follow our European neighbours in the ban against veils in Britain, but what issues must the proposed ban address?  
On the side of the veil wearer they will have us believe that the challenge is to exercise their religious duties, even though it is NOT a religious requirement, but one of tradition, leaving the wearer free to choose.  We believe here in the UK that we have the right and freedom to wear what we please, yet do we?  What of the man in London who wore a t-shirt that said “B******s to Blair” who was asked by a policeman to take it off and turn it inside out or else face a fine and/or prosecution?  What of motorcyclists who walk into a bank or shopping centres with their crash helmets on, or “hoodies” who wish to visit a shopping centre?  What of their freedoms?  In an age where we are obsessed with identification, as an English woman I would not be allowed to hide my identification by swathing myself in fabric and coming up with the excuse that it was based on some religion or other.  Realistically, the practicalities are obvious, and other countries such as Afghanistan who have gone to the extremes of imposing the complete covering of women, have enforced appalling degradation on over half the population.  The more serious side to the identification issue, is the fact that such ridiculous attire in the 21st C is open to abuse, the proof of which would be impossible to challenge.  
Having travelled independently to Iran a country that enforces the modest covering of all women, Moslem or otherwise, I have experienced the issue from another perspective.  During my 6 weeks in Iran I had to wear a head scarf, a loose long coat and ensure that my arms and legs were covered regardless of the temperatures outside.  Had I not observed these laws, I would have been arrested and punished.  One day a man started speaking to my husband and I whilst we were visiting a mosque in Esfahan.  ‘What do you think of Iran?’ he asked me.  I told him that I found the people extremely friendly and helpful and that we were enjoying our drive across Iran, but I didn’t like having to wear the head scarf.  ‘But why?’ He quizzed.  ‘It’s just a piece of cloth.’  Then my husband asked him, ‘OK, if you and your wife were to visit the UK and found that your wife had to remove her veil for the visit because that was OUR law, what would you do?’ The man was horrified. ‘This can’t be, my wife must be covered.’  ……’But it’s just a piece of cloth.’ We told him.
Even in other Moslem majority countries who would be considered to ‘understand’ such issues, such as Egypt, total covering is not encouraged or in some situations tolerated.  I was extending my visa one day in Cairo at the huge government building that processed passports for Egyptian citizens.  I was studying for the second year of my Arabic degree.  As I sat at the desk of the official who was to stamp my passport, a gofer entered the room with a passport application of a completely veiled woman.  The official took one look at the photograph of the piece of cloth with two eyes peeping out from a slit opening and threw it back on the desk towards the gofer.  ‘What is this?’ He shouted in Arabic.  ‘She must show her face.  Take it back and tell her if she wants her passport she must show her face.’  He added, ‘You are wasting my time, now go.’  I can only assume that for her passport application to be processed, she had remove the veil covering her face, though for the woman this would have been little different to uncovering in public, given that forbidden men would be free to see her face.  
As for other women in the UK who wish to keep their faces completely covered, when in Iran I had to follow Iranian laws, so they should be able to accept our rules and regulations with the same dignity, after all it’s just a piece of cloth and England is not ruled by Islam, ……..yet!  
And neither do we want it to be. 
Cindy Thompson   

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