Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Veil Debate: The Immigrant View

The veils debate has come to India, as I write. And it continues to rock Britain, ever since former home secretary Jack Straw set it off two weeks ago (read previous post). Polls in Britain, including one initiated by The Guardian newspaper say that "53% of voters think Mr Straw was right to suggest that the full veil creates a barrier between Muslim women and other people, with only 36% believing he is wrong on the issue."

I started out by saying its somewhat of a non-issue in India, like in many other countries. For the simple reason that unlike Britain, there is no immigrant issue here. Incidentally, the TOI today quotes Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali saying "Quran doesn't ask Muslim women to use a veil. It wants them to dress modestly and behave in a dignfied manner." The veil has, Ali says, become a symbol of dignified dressing and its not a form of opression.

Like before, let me focus on the nation-state issue that I raised earlier. Which is really what a state can or should expect from its citizens, particularly immigrant citizens. Maybe there should not be a distinction in that. But my sense is that countries are beginning to distinguish between the two in some ways, at least in defining what they expect from them, for instance Canada saying knowledege of English is a prerequisite.

Do Immigrants Care ?

What I wonder and to an extent worry about is really the motivation behind migration. I also wonder whether most modern day migrants realise what they sign up for. And let me add that Indian immigrants to the west are not an exception here. My question: do immigrants understand the notion of a nation-state or is it only defined by what the emailer below says.

I will connect this with the subject of veils later but my instinctive answer is no..most migrants couldn't really care about the nation-states they adopt. Of course some do and perhaps make their adopted nations proud. The vast majority are in it for the free ride. And that is worrying. I will build on this later, but meanwhile let me quote two mails (presumably genuine) that appeared on the website of Britain's largest newspaper, The Sun.

Mike on The Sun
13/10/2006 14:07:33
Re:Show your face!

To right they should, it makes my blood boil all this fuss over the Muslim faith. If they want to live here then abide by British way of life, after all if any British citizen was to go and live in a Muslim country they have to abide by the Muslim way of life. And never mind all this multi cultural society clap trap they are just politician's words for i dont want to ignite a debate in case it back fires on me. But i say well done Mr Straw for being honest if only Blair and his i am OK jack sod everyone else cronies were as honest. there are only 3 things that attracts people to this country and that is service, 2.council property, and 3. State benefit.

14/10/2006 00:59:58
Re:Show your face!

I would just like to state, the last I checked this is a free country whereby where Muslims have integrated with what every colour of human you like and successfully co-exist with each and other British Citizen. Including freedom of speech and freedom to where what ya like and do what ya do best so long as you do not breach the law.

Please can somebody point out.. Is it against the law to where a Veil?????

Didnt think so... All the same I aint saying that there should be either, A muslim lady wears a veil based upon here dedication level of her faith to safe guard rapist as such who find it in their minds to screw what they choose a disgusting matter of which we all would condemn full stop.. BUT if he cant see ya face wey hey atleast he aint getting any fresh ideas.. What Ya rkon..

Mr Straw, I personally think is quite intelligent, but as they say donkeys are stupid, but Mr Straw aint a donkey, but has clearly demonstrated that he can walk on all fours... Clever lad.. but credit to the man he has caused a nationwide fiasco.. and given those idiotic extremists an excuse to jump on.. No wonder the security of this country is in a shambles they put the wood on the fire then complain when the water runs out... British politics... Just another b movie..

I Muslims lady in a veil, is a Muslim lady in a veil a standard human being, an affectionists, a patrion to her country and her religion, neither is shew forced or expected to where a veil but wheres on her own free will to further confirm her faith and beliefs..

Besides I do not feel that to understand ones feeling really requires the view of a face. If you really are caring and passionate god gave us understanding and feeling of words that mean heavily in sudden sentences, the great english dictionary and language further supports my point.

I am a Muslim totally integrated in to the british society, my occupation employs and invests in all colours of human regardless to race or what they wear i respect their beliefs and there religion and watever else they need from me as this means integration..

Get over it people.. wats the point of a debate when all it is gonna create is bad feeling in the general public nationwide and further disturbance to whats left of the peace and harmony our fore fathers have left us with..

I am a British Muslim, proud to be British and proud to be a Muslim, if ever I was asked to choose between my nation from my relegion I would end up in a phsyco ward as i just cudnt just they are both dear to me.. but if push came to shove.. then i am glad to say the British justice system still caters for all walks of life..

Take care all.. and just relax.. we are not the enemies and neither are you, we all in one boat but if we dont paddle together we gonna sink.. lets not let that happen..

All the best..


Balaji on 3:48 pm said...

Please don't give importance to what is splashed on Sun. It is a tabloid. that is how it works...whip up the emotions of people. They will do anything to sell their papers.

PS said...

The quotes from The Sun exhibit the two stands on this issue.

I don't think the world would have a problem with the Muslim veil if most terrorist elements in the world didn't have a muslim name. Yes, I know that isn't fair to the noble Muslim faith. But what does the world do when an alarming number of terrorist bombings have a muslim name attached to it? For each terrorist bomb that has a muslim name, the cry against muslims or other religious or ethnic minorities will increase. That's just scared people trying to make the world is a safe place for their near and dear ones. It is not a cry against the Muslim faith.

The fear of terrorism has now gone beyond the initial premises of Jihad, etc. The world is now scared of and attacking any symbol that represents an ethnic community or culture. Some how there is an increasing intolerence of minority communities or cultures that want to stick by their customs and traditions. Religious fundamentalism has not only made the world an unsafe place, it is also questionning the cultural diversity that exists on this planet. The world would be a truly boring place without it's cultural diversity, but perhaps that is the price we will pay for every act of terrorism in the name of faith or community.

Maggie on 4:44 pm said...

If I may share another perspective as to why someone like Jack Straw might feel called upon to address the subject of the veiling of females in British society: There is another reason why this is a problem. It has nothing to do with Islam or Muslims. It has nothing to do with conforming, fashion, or racism. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression. It has nothing to do with the individual wishing to live separately from the prevailing customs in observation of their religious beliefs - for example, the Amish in America are greatly respected, though they deliberately reject dress norms, electricity, telephones, modernity. Here's what the problem

It is deeply offensive to the most fundamental feeling of people in free societies to see other people openly oppressed. Though we know it happens in various ways to many people in many places, including our own, but when it happens it upsets us. To see degradation of another human being worn publicly and held up as a virtue of some sort is simply sickening to us.

It may be a cultural norm elsewhere to mutilate the genitals of little girls, and considered a virtue; that is not the case here. The custom must be observed elsewhere, not in this society. It may be a cultural virtue to sell off daughters in marriage to strangers, but that is not the case here, and it becomes something that people must do in private -not on the street. It may be a cultural norm for men to have four wives - but polygamy is unlawful here, and disgusting to the majority of citizens. People may freely engage in this sort of arrangement elsewhere. It may be perfectly acceptable to beat one's wife (wives) or kill one's daughters ("Honor" killing, I believe the term is) but here these things are crimes - assault and murder. They may not be practised, accepted and excused here.

Imagine if you will some reversal of experience regarding the veiling of females: what if people, for religious reasons, wore men?s clothing designed to expose the testicles, that women's clothing bare the breasts? Would we not all find this appalling? If you were forced to see it on the streets or in public transportation or to know your children were exposed to it in schoolrooms from their teachers, would you not, finally, no matter how much you wish to be sympathetic and tolerant, say something?

The dehumanization of women is obscene to us. To deliberately throw it in the faces of one's neighbors does more than separate - it's offensive. If you are in our countries, you are free to act as you wish in your homes - something that is not the case, I believe, in many of the countries that promote the subjugation of women as a virtue. If people are going to emigrate to free societies, they must understand that they are guests and conduct themselves accordingly, at least in shared public life. Or, live elsewhere. I cannot help but wonder what it is that attracts immigrants to places for which they have such contempt. Please, be happy, perhaps somewhere else.

Jack Straw finally said something. It's worth listening to. If it is unacceptable, perhaps it would be better, and people would be happier, occupying some country whose customs towards females are more in keeping with their comfort zone.

Govindraj on 11:51 am said...

Dear Maggie

Very forceful indeed ! Anyway, let me flip the debate around. A most timely article in the New York Times says locals in Dubai are upset over the excessive show of flesh on the part of (mostly western) women, particularly at the time of Ramzan.

While Dubai does have laws governing attire in place, its usually not followed as I have seen myself. A newspaper article however raised this issue.

Its interesting how people would see this but my response would be simple. Dubai has every right to determine what people wear or do not or how they wear. And if I was a foreigner living there, I would have to abide what is prescribed. Its a different thing if I take liberties with the law as many non-Dubai residents seem to have done.

Many Islamic countries do have laws, strict or otherwise, governing individual attire, etiquette and so on. And I guess they have to be obeyed. Because that's the will of the state.

Sure, democracies like Britain do not determine or govern attire, etiquette and the like. But the veil debate has highlighted the role of the state in such issues as well.

tee said...

Hi Govind,
Was just reading on the net about poeple opnion world over about te muslim women waering veils issue. Came across yr blog, very interesting n powerful writing!

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