Friday, February 25, 2005

To veil or not to veil

I had lunch today with BF, an ex-colleague of mine who happens to work nearby. He is from one of the troubled countries in the Middle East. Over the couple of years that I've known him, we must have spent many hours around the coffee machine discussing the ins and outs of the political situation in that part of the world amongst other things, of course.

Anyway, while munching my way through a bagel filled with salmon, avocado and hollandaise sauce (quite yummy actually) the conversation turned to the wearing of the veil. Much to his chagrin, BF’s wife wears the head scarf. He faces a dilemma. It is clearly her prerogative to wear what she chooses but one which BF feels affects him and places him at a disadvantage. While going around with his wife it is more than likely that the general New Zealand public will perceive him as one of those men who goes around suppressing women and their rights. BF readily admits that this is a natural prejudice that he himself struggles to overcome when he sees veiled women accompanying other men.
Isn’t it unfortunate that the head scarf has become such a contentious symbol of religious identity and one that actually masks a number of deeper issues around religious freedom and the rights of women? To wear or not to wear the veil is surely not the issue. The demotion of women to a secluded world that does not allow them to have professional and public social lives is objectionable. Fix those bigger issues and back off and allow women themselves to decide what they do or do not wear.

I might be wrong but I feel that this whole issue has been exacerbated by the attacks on ordinary Muslims in many countries of the world after 9/11. Any threatened group naturally bonds more strongly together. It’s a survival thing that is strengthened by the display of symbols that identify your membership of the group.


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