Friday, 27 September 2013

The Niqab: A Thin End Of A Tyrannical Wedge

You may have noticed this week that the recurring debate about the full Islamic face veil (the niqab) has been prominent again, specifically (in this case) related to the wearing of the niqab by hospital workers. Now I am firmly of the view that practices attached to oppressive religious dogmas should always be secondary to the laws of the land.  That is to say, I believe that no concession should be made in deference to religious beliefs; it is the religious person that must defer their practices where they conflict with the law (save for exceptional circumstances), and (ideally) where they cause infringements in the workplace.  If people wish to wear the niqab in their everyday life, then that's up to them, and I fully defend their right to do so (although, naturally, I do find it unfortunate).  But when they are in a situation (like say in the medical profession, in a court of law, or with security considerations) in which an inability to see the face impedes the particular practice, I think they should remove it.

But even with that unequivocal stance firmly in place, there is still the issue of the niqab at a societal level, whether it causes divisiveness, and whether women who wear it are having their liberty circumscribed. I believe that Islam is one of the worst things humanity has ever invented – and when I see a woman wearing the niqab it demonstrates to me how absurd and stultifying a practice can be when it is based on religious adherence, and not openly criticised enough because it falls within the purlieus of ‘religious entitlement’.  Of course, people will argue that many Muslims are good, decent, kind and intelligent people – but that’s the wrong line of enquiry, because there is no reason why they couldn’t be good, decent, kind and intelligent people without Islam. No, the right line of enquiry would be to ask the following question; would a balanced woman brought up in an environment in which she had open, critical enquiry, free from the oppression of an archaic and patriarchal religion, wilfully choose to cover herself from head to toe (leaving only her eyes) in adherence to the backward, misogynist desire the Qur'an has to control women?  I think the answer is clearly no.  

The niqab stands as an example of the horrible way in which manifestly man-made patriarchal and half-witted religious dogma not only oppresses women, but causes them confusion about their own liberty.  Here's why. Some Muslim women assert that their wearing the niqab is a free choice, and a symbol of their autonomy in choosing to do so.  But in my view that’s to be guilty of failing to consider whether they would ‘freely’ choose to wear such a hideous thing if they were not so heavily culturally and/or familially conditioned by an implacably absolutist Islamic influence that lurks deep in the religion's repressive ideology. I don't think they would.  By claiming themselves to be free, they are simply demonstrating that the shackles of Islam can give the appearance of being free in the teeth of an apparent volition. It is not a choice that I think many women would make if the well of their mind hadn't been in some way poisoned by the religious dogmas of Islam, and its antipathy to genuine free-thinking autonomy and a critical enquiry that can look beyond the manacles of cultural conditioning.  

This is a good general rule of consideration for life; we should judge decisions, views and beliefs not primarily on the specific conditioning from whence those decisions, views and beliefs occurred, but on whether we think a man or woman brought up in an environment with open, critical enquiry that remained free from oppression would likely make those decisions, hold those views and have those beliefs.  If the answer is ‘no’ then you are entitled to feel pretty confident that they are under an unhelpful thrall.

To show the extent to which this is the case, let me give you an analogous example of why this proclaimed 'freedom' is really a case of being shackled.   A few months ago I saw a documentary on travellers, focusing on a family of toothless simpletons who were setting up fights between seven and eight year old boys in a disused pub, in order to 'toughen them up for bear-knuckle fighting in adulthood'.  When questioned about whether this was tantamount to child abuse, the chief of the toothless simpletons insisted it was “Foyne, because dose kids do'it willingly" - after which, two or three seven and eight year olds were put in front of the camera to confirm "Aye, it's foyne, we do'it willingly".

Once you ask the same kind of question – whether seven and eight year olds bashing each other’s brains out whilst being cheered on by adults in an organised fight scenario would occur in families that had their children’s best interest at heart, and weren’t under the thrall of moronic tribalism that places a premium on bashing rival families’ brains out – you’d, of course, conclude that such behaviour is quite anomalous, and the result of bad cultural conditioning.  Roughly speaking, the niqab is to Islam as child fighting is to traveller mentality - they are thin edges of a much bigger wedge that retards human progression. 

In addition, though, I'll make a correlative point - while the subjugating ultra-modesty of the niqab is (at best) an unhealthy compromise of psychological and emotional liberty, and (at worst) a denial of psychological and emotional liberty, I do think at a general level some degree of modesty and self-respect is required in being free.  I say this because I think many of the so-called liberated folk in the present age are in their own way as constricted as Islamic women wearing the niqab - it's just the case of their being at different ends of the extremity spectrum.

Here's what I mean. At one end we have the aforementioned dogmatic religious constriction that amounts to loss of liberty.  But at the other extreme we have another kind of diminution of liberty - one that taps into this idea of being modern, free, expressive, liberal and liberated.  This is the putative faux-freedom in being able to, and in many cases encouraged to dress scantily and provocatively, to binge drink, to abuse the body, to sleep around, and similar supposed liberties that are believed to be counter-cultural. If an oppressed Islamic woman wearing the niqab has an unhealthy compromise of psychological and emotional liberty, then I think so does the modern person who has compromised himself or herself by going too far the other way with binge, bodily abuse, promiscuity and an ultra-relaxed attitude towards discipline and self-respect- it's just that the two individuals are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The underlying rationale here is important; if we are to will the continual progression of human beings, it is imperative that the bad elements of human history that have survived through cultural and familial propagation are not left unchallenged. The default position by many is that if something is believed by a lot of people (like a belief attached to a religion) then we ought to be circumspect in subjecting it to rigorous scrutiny for fear of offending such a large number of people.  I think that's the opposite of the truth; it is when bad practices are ubiquitous that the people undertaking them most need our help in speaking out for them, and challenging the thrall of the tyranny that shackles their intellect, their emotions and their progression.

* Image courtesy of truthpraiseandhelp.wordpress.com

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