13 April, 2011


Our gaff, our rules

Much handwringing among the bloggerati about the French "burqa ban". Is it blatant islamophobia? Is it protecting the integrity of French culture and laïcité? Is it liberating oppressed muslimas? Is it denying them their human rights? Is it promoting social cohesion through improved interaction?

It seems to me that the French blunderbuss approach is somewhat deficient in ze famed Gallic finesse. All this confrontation could easily be avoided. Let the Dalek ladies and the letter-box ladies walk the streets freely.

But modern daily life has certain generally accepted complications. For example, identification is often required. When I travelled home on the train yesterday evening, there was a ticket inspection. I showed the nice man my Freedom Pass, which includes a photograph of me. How would a veiled muslima deal with the problem of a) providing the photograph in the first instance, and b) revealing her face to the (male) railway enforcement officer in order to confirm that her identity matched that of the authorized user of the pass?

Many private and private-public sites, such as office buildings, shopping malls, indvidual shops and banks, require not identification per se but identifiability. Your face must be visible while on the premises to general staff, security staff and CCTV so that you may potentially be identified. Thus chavs are required to lower their hoods, motorcycle couriers to remove their helmets and so on. How is a veiled muslima to meet this generally accepted requirement?

The answer in each case is that it is her problem, not that of society at large.

We must start from the premise that this, be it the UK or France, is a modern secular or secular-Christian West European society and that our cultural standards at the very least take precedence and in many cases will be the only standards tolerated. In the "community cohesion" game, it is entirely up to immigrant cultural communities to cohere with us and not up to us to make concessions to accommodate their preferences.

By all means wear niqab, chador or even full burqa, ladies. Short of obscene nudity, it is not part of our current culture to make a legislative fuss about people's clothing. To take the piss, maybe, but not to outlaw it in the public street. But if your choice of clothing restricts your ability to participate in the detail of our society, that is your problem.

All that is needed is for people to have the confidence that the state will back them up in applying our cultural norms. For the security wallah at Morrison's, say, to know that when he excludes a woman in niqab as being a potentially unidentifiable shoplifter, he is not going to be hauled over the coals and possibly fired by the equality mafia, but will be supported for simply applying accepted standards. No special laws, no demos, no debates, just a little bit of cultural self-confidence. Our gaff, our rules, and if you don't like it, the airport is over there.

As that sodding meerkat is always saying, simples.

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