Lifting the Veil: Behind the UK debate to ban Muslim veils

Long rant warning. I’m about to upset a lot of people.

All Muslims are terrorists. Muslim women who insist on wearing veils in the UK are disrespecting our culture and clearly have something to hide. If we showed the same kind of disrespect in ‘their’ countries we’d all be killed. Muslims should, quite honestly, dress like we do or go home.

Nanny State Mentality

Regular readers know that I’m opposed to governments who impose strict laws which go way beyond the issues of law and order. In fact I’m opposed to any kind of authority which goes beyond that which maintaining order. I don’t believe in the ‘Nanny State’ and I regularly make gloomy predictions of Orwellian futures which I still stick by. The frightening thing is that the Police state of the UK is being created from within – by the people.

I got into hot bother with my school in the UK when I refused to wear a tie. I wore nice trousers, shoes, my best jacket and either a good T-shirt or buttoned shirt and looked professionally smart enough to happily go to any interview. But a tie was too restrictive for me as a music teacher who’s teaching style is to bounce around a lot and move all over the classroom at speed trying to assess thirty kids at a stretch. But the school authorities deemed it ‘unprofessional’ – that most ubiquitous and slippery of terms. Our sixth form students could – and did – pretty much wear whatever they wanted and our female staff had almost no dress restrictions at all. But male staff had to  wear a tie. It was unjust and pointless.

I never wore one and I demanded my moral right to make that judgement as a professional in an age where very few need to wear ties for their work any longer.

You can imagine then, that I’m pretty upset to see the debate about Muslim women wearing veils coming up – and you’d be right. What right do we have to tell others what to wear? The views I wrote in the first paragraph are not mine. They are the messages being conveyed to Muslims all over the world by this debate and, to my utter disgust, being said openly on the street, on my Facebook notifications and in the comments under all the articles I’ve read online covering this news (you can read them yourself in the links at the end).

The Racism within

Here are a few such comments picked largely at random (italics and bold mine):

“As it happens this veil thing is not a religious requirement, but even if it was I think it should be banned entirely from all public places. It makes normal people feel uncomfortable here”

“Come to England, build your Mosques do as you please. But let us go to your place of origin and let us build places of worship, practise our believes, oops no we can’t can we, you would execute us

“The burka has no place in British society. We accept many foreign influences and customs into our country, and have done for centuries, but this archaic and mediaeval imprisonment of women should be banned in all public places.”

“…round up everyone who is totally alien to our way of life and culture and send them to a more suitable country…”

“Our government’s allowing the wear of this S**t is all about UK flattering to bloated rich Sheikhs of golf countries and emirates who have HUGE wealth and investment in the UK, to attract them into more investment, and to prove to them how tolerant people are in here towards ODDNESS. Neqab wearing is a harmful oddness, and its wearers need to stop.”

There were more offensive comments I could quote but I will refrain as these are bad enough. I’ve often talked to British friends about the racism inherent throughout the country and I’m repeatedly told it is just a small percentage of people and I’m being unfair to the British on the whole who are very tolerant of other cultures.

There is truth to this – I don’t suppose for one minute that everyone in the country holds the same views – but this is far from being a tiny minority view. I meet and mix with people far and wide and I’m afraid it is the minority who don’t hold these views to some extent or other.

British History re-written

What doesn’t help is that we’ve re-written history in order to believe such nonsense. It was the colonial British who began the job of presenting ourselves as a ‘pure breed’ destined to rule less civilised people (i.e. Asia and Africa) who should aspire to be like us even in their own countries.

It is no coincidence that the British Empire dismantled after the second world war. Hitler threw a mirror up at our faces and we didn’t like the ugliness we saw. We looked uncomfortably like him.

Yet we still wanted the riches places like India had given us for three hundred years and so we offered them friendship and the offer of work in the UK. We had told them for centuries that they were British subjects and now we said they could be British citizens instead. We did this – Asians didn’t assume they could come to the UK. They just trusted us – foolishly, I think, considering the British repeatedly showed they couldn’t be trusted during the Raj – and came with our invitation into our open ports. Instantly, white British people rejected these Asians but Asians  were used to suffering and they had invested too much in coming over to turn round now. The Asians stayed and survived by keeping their own close-knit communities. Very quickly, the British public forgot we invited them over and that we had used these people for a long time. Of course we forgot! India is, after all, so very far away.

Mongrels and Globish

The British have never been a ‘pure breed’. Thank God. I think it is one of our greatest strengths and the crime is that we’re doing so much to deny it. We’re made up of Celts, Saxons, Angles, Romans, Vikings and – for three hundred years our rulers – the French. We’re a mongrel race and that’s no bad thing. Indeed our language is so complex because it is a complete mishmash of other languages and cultures.

English was, for a long time, the subjugated language – French and Latin were the only acceptable educated and legal languages – but the common people kept fighting for it and the language grew and developed, incorporating all languages it encountered. The acceptance of incorporating and ‘inventing’ new words is best demonstrated through Shakespeare who created hundreds of words we now use daily which didn’t exist in his time to expand the language. No one found any problem with this because the lie that there is a fixed ‘grammar’ to English hadn’t been enforced by the elite. Indeed, Shakespeare himself, never spelt his name the same way twice and none of the signatures we have on record are spelt the way we spell his name now. The language adapts.

The result – in part, but not wholly, through the British Empire – is that ‘Globish’ is the language of the world and this is a wonderful thing for trade, development and world peace. It’s not wonderful because it is ‘British’. It’s wonderful because it is a single language which historically has always accommodated other languages to survive and can be adapted by each country to make their own – as the Americans have done so successfully. It doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to everyone.

So a the British public today are under an illusion when they think Britain has ever been an homogeneous collective of like language, social rites and culture. The British seem stuck in a lie first perpetuated by the Victorians and have forgotten that the British invited the Asian community back when we were ‘prepared’ to accept those we formerly ruled as British citizens (or at least pretend to).

If we have anything great in us, it is that we have swallowed up the rites, rituals and customs of those who come from afar. Our Christmas trees are German – indeed, our whole Royal family is! Almost all our favourite ‘Great British Takeaway’ food comes from other countries. Our language is not ours and we really don’t have much of a cultural identity which all of us can say for certain came from these shores and nowhere else.

And nor should we try.

The Muslim Problem

Yet, we hate the Muslim women who choose not to dress ‘like us’ – something which is also a lie. When white British people wear sarongs or Hawaii style shirts or even sometimes girls will dress ‘exotically’ and wear sarees, it’s all part of the fun of the freedom the Brits enjoy in a culture that no longer has social taboos about clothes. Yet, when a Muslim woman chooses to wear the hijab or purdah or other forms of veiling, this is…’distasteful’.

Muslim veils are too ‘other’ for our tastes. We make excuses why they should be banned. Like all good lies, this one has some basis for truth: there are situations where a woman needs to be unveiled and I do think it is reasonable in a court of law for this to happen at least in some circumstances. While the biggest concern ‘officially’ is the full veil which hides all but the eyes (and even the eyes in extreme cases) really, any headgear is objectionable to the British. It all represents too much ‘otherness’. We like to invent situations why veils shouldn’t be worn – courts, schools, airports  and so on – and extend the argument (which are not all necessarily valid) to a ‘general rule’ which goes way beyond genuine issues and becomes dictatorial imposition.

The Dictatorship of ‘Nanny’

While some of you reading may be thinking the veil will never been banned or that I’m exaggerating the situation, I’m quite certain I’m not and predict that just as France has banned it so Britain is highly likely to follow suit.

The more liberal-minded tell me it is simply to liberate women from the oppression of Islam and that Muslim women are desperate to be free of their yoke.

Yet again, I say, ‘Nanny’ is dictating what is the best possible ‘good’ on behalf of others. We really haven’t changed much since the Empire. Our conscience may have told us we can’t rule the earth but our hearts still tell us it would be better if we did.

Change should come from within – not be imposed from above

Again, like all good lies, there is some truth. No one can sensibly insist there is no abuse of women in Islamic societies. Like all societies – religious or not – women and children will suffer abuse where men can get away with it. But we’re forgetting that the overwhelming majority of Muslim women choose to wear the veil or not to wear it. All the women I know who wear veils do so from their own religious beliefs and not because they have had it imposed by their husbands as the white British public tend to believe.

Where there is abuse, it needs to be dealt with from inside – by Muslims themselves. And it is happening. The recent waves of revolution which swept North Africa and led us to the Syrian crisis now are good indications that Muslims think for themselves just like White westerners do and they really don’t need our help thank you very much. As Gandhi says in the film when the British ask what about all the problems which will arise when the British leave India.

At least they will be our problems, he says – and he was right.

The tiny number of situations where a veil might cause an issue aside, to blanket ban veils in public is simply another way of saying “Muslims go home” – perhaps the Government will put that on the side of a van soon too?

The Hidden Rascism

You don’t need to belong to UKip or the British Nationalist Party to be a racist; just be afraid of your neighbour’s religion and culture and disapprove. Tell yourself they should follow our culture (which doesn’t exist) and try to ‘fit in’ (which they will never do) despite the fact you would never dream of saying that to your white friend who is a Buddhist, or the Goth teenager down the road or, these days, the cross-dresser living opposite.

No, only your fundamentalist, terrorist Asian living next door, living off benefits falsely and plotting their next bomb attack need to be made to fit in properly. And how do you know your neighbours are like this?

Easy. The women are forced to wear veils. It’s a dead give away.

Some have commented it is disgusting. Reading those comments, I can’t help but agree but, as you can probably tell from this rant, for completely different reasons.

Since writing this I’ve just read that the Romanian Ambassador to the UK has attacked UKip for the increasing racism in the country. The comments made at the bottom of the report make for eye-opening reading. Below are several related reports which I recommend you read through to the bottom and look at how people are reacting if you still think the UK is racially tolerant.

Recommended Reading (for the comments):

Romanian Ambassador Ion Jinga Blames Ukip For Racist Attacks

Muslim Veil Ban Should Be Considered In Public Places Says Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne

UK Veil Ban: Muslim Women Don’t Need Britain’s “Protection”

Special report: The punishment was death by stoning. The crime? Having a mobile phone (this is also a very badly written report by the Independent and clearly biased against Islam. The comments that follow are a tirade of racist abuse) 

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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26 Responses to Lifting the Veil: Behind the UK debate to ban Muslim veils

  1. Pingback: A Day out in Bangladesh – Life in a Santal village, Rangpur | kenthinksaloud

  2. Helen says:

    Muslims have MORE rights and freedom in Britain than Christians.Several street preachers have been arrested in the last 4 months for unbelievably trivial reasons, (including a white guy, arrested whilst his two black & asian colleagues were left alone), to say nothing of the b&b owners who’ve been persecuted for saying homosexuality & Islam were wrong. I agree that Britain is becoming more & more degenerate, amongst the indiginous population, but then Muslim men are notorious for wife abuse, probably more, statistically than white men. And there have also been several cases of large gangs of muslim men, trafficking, kidnapping and raping white teenagers in Britain recently.

    Like

    • Jo Bloggs says:

      Hi Helen,

      Just thought I’d give you some reflections on your comment.

      Muslims do not have more or less rights than Christians. I know this blog is kind of arguing they have a lot less but I don’t nec agree with that, I think they have the same this is a secular country. Your example of street preachers says nothing about Muslim-Christian-anything relations without any context so whatever, although I’m sure it has no real basis, they weren’t arrested just for being white.

      The B&B owners were rightly brought to justice but the main cause of that was they refused to allow a gay couple to stay with them – that was a case of they should not be discriminating against gay people and not really anything to do with Islam. That example was also baseless and not relevant to this discussion except that it shows all people and all discrimination is accounted for and punished accordingly in a society like ours which only serves against your argument.

      Muslim men are “notorious” for wife abuse even though you think they’re only “probably” more so statistically than white men? You keep making sweeping and insulting generalisations based on assumptions, this is bad practice. There have been stories about Muslim (Asian) men doing those things and its something all communities (including the Muslim one) must face up to and address but I don’t see how this is a point as to how Muslims are treated better than Christians? (I could mention priests or tell you the actual statistics of White vs Asian sexual abuse but that would be petty so I won’t… this is a really good article I recommend on this though: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/06/sexual-abuse-in-white-community) All of these people have been brought to justice without discrimination.

      Hope this helps.

      Like

      • Thank you Jo Bloggs – you stated good arguments and I’m grateful. For the moment, I’m going to let this debate ride just to see what other’s might have to say about it but I will just say that I don’t think I suggest in the post that Muslims have less rights than Christians – do I? I certainly didn’t intend to. Had the latest debate been about banning the wearing of any Christian paraphernalia in public places (rather like the wearing a cross at hospital issue) I would have been equally alarmed and may even have written about it (though this blog is about Bangladesh and Britain and related issues rather than religion per se). My point here is that Britain is rather Islamophobic and my argument is that this debate is stoked by such racist attitude rather than genuinely by all the worthy arguments about where the veil should or should not be worn.

        Whether directed at Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jew (and for that matter, straight or gay) – I am against anyone trying to dictate the moral choices of others and will defend whoever is being oppressed (in this case I see my Muslim friends suffering). Where the issue of faith is concerned, it seems to me that anyone who feels they need laws to stop people believing in some other morality than their own has a very weak faith system. And if that faith system isn’t atheism, then they have a pretty weak G(g)od too!

        Thank you for commenting – I wonder if we’ll see any replies..?

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  3. Ken, this post must have taken allot of effort, research and thinking. With all your points I agree. I also agree with all of the commentators and I also feel they have said allot of what I would have said.

    The trouble I have in understanding racism of this sort, the sort which objects to a way someone looks is that their argument has no basis. In an intellectual terms the words “dumb argument” would be correct choice of words. I often hear that women who wear the veil are forced to do so or oppressed and have to, but how can they be sure that those are the very reasons, and what exactly is the argument?

    I mean, I find the abuse of alcohol and drugs more worse than a girl wearing a veil. I find, families unable to feed their children a growing concern here. I find it sad to see a growing number of food banks in the UK being stretched to the limit. I find crime and domestic violence a grave concern here – and all these I can provide evidence that these indeed are problems backed up with statistics, but about the veil – I’m not convinced there is a good enough argument to have it outlawed.

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  4. Norah says:

    I’m concerned about Sweden as well. Racism and Islamophobia is growing. And the people with such values are like kids who cover their ears and scream – they refuse to understand us.

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting Norah – I’m away I’m writing as a non-Muslim and that’s always a dangerous thing to do as I can get things wrong. Your support then, is greatly appreciated! I think your metaphor of kids covering their ears is exactly right. If only our respective countries could be taught to re-think as easily as you can with kids…:-/

      Like

      • Norah says:

        No I don’t think you got anything wrong Ken, so don’t worry. You know I believe everybody is entitled to their opinion, as long as they understand what their opinion really means. Most of the time people are simply scared of that which they don’t understand. Or maybe the racists are simply scared that the reign of the white man is slowly coming to an end as India and China are growing.

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        • You may have a point there Norah! I also think you’re more tolerant than me🙂 I think everyone is entitled to a justified opinion but I’m not sure I’m prepared to accept anyone’s opinion if it is clear it is based on nothing but bigotry. So I think that makes you, if you’ll forgive the sexism, ‘a bigger man than I’.😉

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          • Norah says:

            Hahahah… I don’t know… maybe I would think differently if I had been a victim of some racial attack… as it is I’ve only faced racism indirectly and every time I’ve made sure the person knows s/he can’t mess with me😛.

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  5. Audrina says:

    People should learn to tolerate other people,tolerate their culture,religion,beliefs etc. If we can all be tolerant of one another,the world will be a better place or at least better than it is now.

    Like

  6. Ruby Tuesday says:

    This puts me in mind of the famous (in the U.S.) poem by Emma Lazarus, engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

    “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    The ” ‘Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses, , ,” is the part most famous. Thing is, while the issues of intolerance and fanaticism may not be in the exact same form of expression or always at the exact same people over here, Americans seem to forget that we were always a country of immigrants. Not to discount the American Indians or Native Americans or whatever the current PC term is (no disrespect meant to these peoples, lots of disrespect meant to people who have to argue and change this constantly and then act as though they are superior because they use the “right” words to talk about people whose land was forcibly stolen from them — those words make that decimation alright, apparently), but this country was built by immigrants: German, Polish, Italian, Irish and on and on. And the history of what these people who built our country had to face is ugly, and I think a major reason so many Americans who are now otherwise reasonably sane adults show such intolerance and say people should “learn the language” (one, we don’t have an official national language; two, most of these people cannot speak it properly themselves), etc. is because history has always been so white-washed and “sanitized” that they were never taught the truth of things in this country. And contrary to popular belief, it’s getting worse, not better.

    Of course there are always going to be those who are ignorant fanatics just for the hell of it, but they are the extreme.

    Wow. Well, one good rant deserves another, I guess! That’s my excuse for this comment, anyway. I hope you’ll accept it. 😉

    Oh, and incidentally, English itself is a Germanic language. So anyone in England or the U.S. or anywhere who likes to claim it as something special and pure is bordering on insane, as far as I’m concerned.

    (I could also get into a rant on linguistics, but I’ll control myself.)

    Like

    • Thank you Ruby for your thoughtful commentary on the American position which seems as fraught with xenophobia as the UK is. As far as rants go, yours was a very good one! But then everything you write is very good😉

      Now I would love a debate on linguistics with you somewhere along the line – I suspect that would be a fascinating discussion. I would go further even than you have about English being Germanic – and actually did in the post itself I think. The argument of being Germanic is a little over-used; it is certainly true the origins of English lie in the western German areas but over 60% of English words find their roots in Latin and/or Greek with around 10% of those coming through an intermediary such as French. In fact, I loosely subscribe to the linguistic theory that suggests that all the European languages – including German – find their roots in Greek. You have to play that game – you know, the one where you have a four letter word and change one letter at a time creating a new word until you eventually end up with a word that looks and sounds totally different to the one you started with – to follow the theory but, nevertheless, I think it holds water, as do many other scholars.

      Either way, our mutual point is the same: Not even the language used by the British is ‘culturally pure’. Immigrants bring money into the economy, revitalise trade and enrich our cultures which grow and adapt in positive ways. We should embrace the differences – not fear them!

      Like

      • Ruby Tuesday says:

        Though I thank you for your compliment (and what a complement it is!), I write a lot of crap. Fortunately, very few people have read it. Usually no one does. 🙂

        I’m approaching linguistics in the very unique way I do everything, I guess — a combination of formal learning mixed with a lot of practical experience. Germanic is the way English is classified, though of course basically everything ultimately finds its way back to Latin or Greek in English (with a smattering of notable and noteworthy exceptions). Practically speaking, I can also accept this because from a couple of years of high school German I still understand way more of the language than I should, and can see great similarities to English.

        Latin is a “dead language” of course, but I took a semester-and-a-half of it in college anyway — all of which was summarily shocked from my brain. Still, given a very small amount of context, I do pretty well reading basic French, Spanish, Italian, all of the Romantic languages except Portuguese, which is pretty much something unto itself anyway, so I don’t feel too badly. 🙂 Actually, depending on the language and the speed at which it’s being spoken, I also do pretty well understanding these verbally.

        But then as you know I am a case unto myself, so perhaps we shouldn’t use my practical experience in anything. 😉 Also, I have an excellent talent for languages, or did before I cracked up and they broke my memory. Greek was on my list for study, but as I can’t remember at least one-third of the English words I used to know, learning or re-learning another language has been firmly placed in my personal Pandora’s box.

        One thing I love about blogging is how incredibly well I have gotten learn the different varieties of English, both spoken and written (though the spoken is obviously more limited). The U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand are all countries where I have had the chance through blogging friends to study forms of English in a fair amount of depth. And then we get into regional dialects!

        Er, I think this was why I meant not to get into linguistics, but here’s where I’m going to put a nice Ruby bow on it and maybe justify your compliment to me just a little: I’ve kind of proved the main point under discussion by example, haven’t I? Look at all the different languages covered here, and though I may have veered from what I intended to say about what you did — don’t even make me try to think more at this particular moment — I landed somewhere even better. An open mind, an attitude not just of tolerance but passionate embrace of all of these diversities and differences, and an true eagerness to understand (in light of your topic and this whole comment thread I think that word can be applied in every sense of its meaning). . . I know it’s much more reasonable to simply start with tolerance, and we certainly need that.

        As for me, I say reasonable applies to other things and other people. 😉

        Oh, and I wanted to share with you a quote which I couldn’t quite fit anywhere in the first comment or this one, but which fits this post so well:

        “For fanaticism and bigotry are busy and forever need feeding.” ~ Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind

        (I may not have that perfect, as it has been a few months since I last watched the film.)

        Like

  7. Muna Haque says:

    I totally agree with you. I think, most of the the Middle East countries, don’t force foreigners to be in purdah, so why the Muslim women will be forced not to wear veils in Britain? As far as I know, EVEN KSA ( in the big cities), where Islam has begun, does NOT force Non-Muslim women to be in purdah, but they do expect them to wear very decent clothes!

    Like

  8. slyrslaraiba says:

    Reblogged this on Sincerely, Laraiba and commented:
    Nice piece.

    Like

  9. slyrslaraiba says:

    Those who believe that mode of dress for Muslims is a culture choice are very sadly misguided. Would you ask a Nun not to wear her habit? Freedom of religious expression, is more the issue, which has been a problem in England historically. Oh well.

    Like

  10. Respect is probably the word here… Respect peoples individuality, religion etc. Also, respect each country’s traditions and rules. For example I wouldn’t go around dressed inappropriately in a Muslim country out of respect to their beliefs.

    Like

    • Le Clown says:

      Marina,
      I’m in agreement with you, again. Stop it.
      Le Clown

      Like

    • Indeed you are right Marina. Respect is absolutely key. Unfortunately, Muslims are made the scapegoats because most still live to a much higher sense of moral code than we Westerners are used to these days. While UK Muslims live in a country where there are no legal restrictions on clothing, Muslim countries tend to have tighter moral views. So you’d be right to respect say, Bangladeshis. by not dressing inappropriately here in Bangladesh. But Muslims in the UK are being picked on for xenophobic reasons rather than offending any sense of morality among the British. It is that xenophobia which I object to. It’s also worth pointing out that most Muslim women don’t wear the (full) veil – and so do attempt to ‘fit in’ with British culture but STILL find themselves rejected. But those that do wear it, do so for good moral reasons which would have appealed to the British sense of morality just a few decades ago…

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