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A Bitch About The Veils of Blackburn! Are They The Last Straw?


Well Darlings,

I have my serious hat on today. Does the government, or come to that: does anybody, have the right to suggest how individuals should dress? I am, of course, asking because of all the furore that has broken out after it was learned that Jack Straw requested Muslim women visiting the surgeries he holds in his constituency to remove their veils. It is a question that is now being asked by many, including our newspapers, and a subject matter that has certainly sparked a lot of debate. Jack's original intentions with the requests were apparently only in order that he should be able to see the responses that we all look for in another's facial expressions when conducting a conversation with them.

By now you must all know I could never be counted amongst the great fans of Jack Straw, however I do find I have sympathy with him over this issue. I for one would certainly feel at a loss trying to have intelligent dialogue with a piece of cloth, especially over an important matter as no doubt they often are that are discussed in these surgeries. I see asking for a veil to be removed in such circumstances a perfectly reasonable request, and we're told it was just that - nothing more than a simple request. One where all due respect and propriety was being observed by another female being present at all times.

The whole issue of having to wear a veil (hijab) for religious reasons is extremely debateable, even within Muslim communities. As far as I can see from some quick research on the Internet it is not commanded anywhere in the Quran, but has somehow evolved from God's ruling concerning Muslim men with "disease in their hearts" who would wish to take advantage of the position of the prophet's wives. God ruled that any such man who wanted to speak to or ask something of the prophet's wives must only do so from behind a curtain. It seems that like with the Christian Bible, some have taken the words quite literally, whilst others have found a meaning to them. It all depends on where a person is coming from as to how they interpret their faith.

That said, even taking the teachings of the Quran literally, as Jack Straw is neither a Muslim nor is likely to be in the market for taking advantage of the position of a prophet's wife, is a veil necessary at all, even for a devout follower, at one of his surgeries? On face value (aren't puns wonderful things?) I would say it is not. Nevertheless from Jack Straw's quite innocuous request, judging by the readers' responses to this story in some of the national press, it would appear that a Holy war has almost erupted. Muslims are arguing with other Muslims, with Christians, and with those of different faiths or with no faith at all. We are again reminded just how fragile a multicultural society can be at times.

From that one story of those simple requests it has escalated until now it seems every stone that could be thrown at the other's way of life, is being thrown. And more fuel has been added by news of how the Metropolitan Police excused a Muslim police officer from duties guarding the Israeli embassy. Many are reminding us that a police officer's duty should come before anything else. No police officers will have any love or sympathy with a paedophile, a murderer, or a rapist - the crime will be abhorrent in all of their beliefs - but it is still their duty to protect him (or her), and to do that despite any personal beliefs or feelings. Some are questioning why an exception should be made for a Muslim, and idioms like: "Give them an inch . . ." and: "When in Rome . . ." are now being freely batted around in many a conversation concerning our multicultural society. It is not a good time.

Getting back to my first question, I believe the government, and others, do have the right to suggest how individuals should dress. There will be a general consensus somewhere of what is acceptable and what is not. Nudity in public, for one example, is not acceptable to most. We also find that "hoodies" are made unwelcome by people in many of our towns and cities, and are actually barred in some. In fact, in most places people will be in agreement that a person walking around with something like a mask on, or anything that hides their facial features from us, should be viewed with suspicion and maybe apprehended for investigation. That person could easily trigger a panic should they even quite innocently enter (say) a shop or a bank. There are many places that are frequented by the public which will now refuse entry to hoodies, and even to those who refuse to remove their motor cycle helmets, and I can find nothing wrong with that policy.

There is a requirement in our far from perfect society to be able to see the other person - we may want to recognise them later, or sadly these days we may need to recognise them later. To us, the ability to see the other person's face is based on our logic and good sense; on something learned and built up perhaps over thousands of years. A whole section of our society being "excused" from having to accept this, our normal way of life, is never going to do much for promoting cultural harmony, is it?

I could never excuse anyone of our indigenous population who did not adhere to the local way of life when they were visiting or living in another country - few other countries would allow it to happen, anyway - so I find it extremely hard to excuse those who visit or live in this country when they don't seem to want to accept or adapt to our way of life. "When in Rome . . ." does have a lot going for it when you are seeking to achieve racial and cultural harmony - and that is not being racial; that is simply being sensible.

I'm all for a multiracial, multicultural society - I feel it is something to be appreciated, it has a lot going for it. Some may remember my story of the Chinese Dragon and how, not really knowing what the hell was being celebrated because we couldn't understand each other, a group of us were invited to join in the merriment and had such a great time. It was a long time ago, yet even then it was multiculturalism working - two entirely different cultures happy together in respect and enjoyment of one another. Sadly, all this time later, that kind of harmony is not universal across all people from all cultures. Perhaps it is time to thrash out some hard and fast rules. But that might call for some sacrifices being made - and not merely by the host country as many believe has been the case up to now. When people are striving to make a life in a country different to that of their family's roots, I think most us are of the opinion they should at least try to fit in with the local customs - not attempt to change them.

Before anyone picks me up on it, I use the words "host country" loosely for I do fully realise many will have been born here and that this is their country, but surely that only goes to further prove my point? Those born in this country - although they will naturally have been taught and be proud of their history - should have been encouraged by their families to become a part of it, not apart from it.

There are so many today that have managed to become a part of us - just look around you - they have either adopted or adapted to our ways, and they have come from all the races and creeds imaginable - including the Muslim faith. They are the Britain of today: our friends, neighbours, bosses, workmates, and often even our very families. We rejoice with them in good times and we cry with them in bad times, for we are all brothers and sisters in spirit, if not truly in blood. But in spite of all this success, sadly there still seems to be a few, a small minority out there, that just doesn't want to get to this stage - to bridge the gap.

As much as we may wish for them to do so, we need to be resolute that our way of life remains immutable, for there are those who look for a solution to this problem by offering these people even more concessions, and through surrendering some of our long-time traditions like Christmas. I see that as entirely wrong, and seriously harmful to good relations. Such actions can only further widen the gap between us. It can only breed resentment and make matters worse. I think we have already given enough - perhaps too much, and that is the problem. It is time now to be looking for, perhaps to be expecting, something in return.

The idea of having parallel communities hasn't worked - it was a stupid idea - the differing communities have become more and more separate, and the further we have drifted apart the less we have understood each other and the more we have encountered friction. That cannot be good news for a people who represent a mere 3% of our population, for eventually they may lose out big-style. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" I may have adapted from Spock (Star Trek) but I think it is extremely relevant here.

It really is time that some of these people woke up, smelled the coffee, and joined the party as so many others have managed to do quite successfully, and without losing their identity or compromising their faith. It can be done, but it is only they that can do it.

I think life is sometimes like trying to scale a mountain. Occasionally you have to stop, to retrace your steps, and to look at the problem again; to seek out an alternative route. Those who find they are unable to do this risk all that comes with failure.

I'll leave this subject with a quotation:

"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." - Benjamin Franklin.

And now for some good news. Following the success of Blackpool's first attempt at a GLBT Pride earlier this year, it became obvious to one and all that better than a stony car park was needed for the people to celebrate in after the parade. So, in what some see as a bit of a coup, on the Saturday of Blackpool Pride in 2007 the celebrations are to take place on Blackpool's famous North Pier. This is believed to be the first UK Pride to be held (technically) on water. Fuller details and regular updates can be found on http://www.prideblackpool.com where, on the published feedback page, you may send in and read praises, comments, and criticisms, or just say hello to Blackpool Pride. Gloria Goodtime is waiting for your input! Ouch! Paronomasia gets everywhere, doesn't it?

See you next week . . .

"The Bitch!" 7/10/06.

Submitted by:

Michael Knell

Michael Knell

"The Bitch!", a weekly UK News Review column, is hosted by the author and columnist Michael Knell. These articles appear on the Blackpool Gay Directory website, but are not specifically gay in content. More information on the author: http://www.michaelknell.com and on the directory: http://www.astabgay.com.





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