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VEILED THREATS

18-01-2010

United Kingdom Independence Party MEP Nigel Farrage has echoed calls made in 2006 by Labour’s Jack Straw for a ban on the Burka - or full face veil - as worn by thousands of Muslim women in Britain. Frankly, says Steve Beauchampé, what the hell has it got to do with either of them!

I have always found UKIP MEP Nigel Farage to be inoffensive enough, an affable - if downright absurd - footnote on the political landscape, a man whose principal rôle in British political life was to draw votes away from the Tories. But his call for a ban on the Burka, or full face veil, as worn by thousands of Muslim women in Britain is both thoroughly discourteous and chauvinistic.

UKIP, of which Mr. Farage is a former leader, fills the space between the right wing of the Conservative Party and the BNP. Ostensibly, the party are not racist; stridently nationalist and patriotic for sure, the epitome of the Little Englander mentality mos def (as they say in Series 1 of The Wire), but basically I imagine that what UKIP and their supporters really want is for Britain to return to the way it was in the early 1950s, and then for it to never change.

As I compose this no doubt there are tabloid newspaper leader writers penning articles in support of Farage, as they previously did of Labour’s Jack Straw (who called for something similar back in late 2006). Such journalists never miss an opportunity to lay into Islam and its more overt symbols and devout followers.

For devout is what most Muslim women who take the veil are, however great the intolerance they face - and no doubt they’ll experience additional grief following Nigel Farrage’s intervention. The garment has become politicised to the extent that some women now dress in the niqab (which covers the head and face) or hijab (just the hair) more as a statement of political defiance, a way of displaying solidarity with their Islamic faith.

Yet the veil is essentially a cultural statement, a declaration of modesty, of monogamy, in a society where scantily clad drunken girls parade themselves around Britain’s city centres most weekends, where Anne Summers is on the High Street, where ‘lads’ mags pepper the newsstands. A free society must - to a greater or lesser extent - have room for all of this.

Islamic dress codes have as much place in the modern world as those of any other faith, but Mr. Farage does not call for the outlawing of turbans, the Hindi chaddar, the habit’s worn by nuns, the hairstyles and dress of Hassidic Jews, the unwashed hair of Rastarfarians.

Indeed most religions regard some form of facial or hair covering as important and if tolerance and respect are to mean anything other than platitudes then the differences (which in the case of the veil - and only the veil - Nigel Farage says are a symbol of division) between various faiths should be supported and welcomed by society’s laws and strictures.

Additionally, Nigel Farage claims that veils can lead to the oppression and control of women. Like all other religions, Islam is certainly not free of males who will misuse it’s tenets to exploit and abuse those they perceive to be weaker than themselves and our society must offer sanctuary, refuge and assistance to women who feel so pressurised, but this is no reason to ban a form of dress whose origins can be traced over many centuries.

There are some people in politics who we can laugh at, rather than with (I’m thinking Boris Johnson, US Republican Sarah Palin and the MP who claimed for his duck island here), but there are others whose ignorance and stupidity are more dangerous and give succour to sinister political viewpoints. Today at least Nigel Farage is in this latter category.

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