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Saturday, 3 July 2010

A Berk versus the Burka

Philip Hollobone, a conservative back bench MP in the UK has tabled bill to ban the Burka, and head scarves that cover the face.

Dressed up as a bill to protect Britishness (It’s “not the British way” to wear a face covering says Hollobone) this is nothing more than an insidiously shitty racist bit of legislation.

Cappuccino is not the British way to make coffee. Should we also ban Starbucks and force everyone to drink lukewarm instant coffee? Nachos, Baguettes, Mercedes, Halloween, Gwyneth Paltrow, none of these are British either. Something really must be done.

If face coverings are so offensive, should we insist motorbikers use open faced helmets, cyclists prevented from using pollution masks? Wedding dresses made without veils so the Bride's identity can be confirmed? And on a cold day no one should be allowed to wrap a scarf over their face. Foolishness. Hollobone would have more credibility if he said “I don’t understand the way these foreigners behave. I don’t like it and I don’t want to be confronted by it.”

The only redeeming feature of Britishness is that it’s one of the most cosmopolitan and tolerant societies in the world. Mainly because of it's overwhelming politeness, it accepts al-comers. Yet the far right politicians and press invoke this subconsciously populist idea that Britain should revert to a post-war blitz-spirit nation of cricket on village greens as Routemaster buses drive past laden with gentlemen commuting to work in bowler hats. Shoe-shines for a shilling squire. Happy days.

Except the austere 1950’s weren’t happy days, and ironically post war Britain was rebuilt with the sweat and ideas of an army of immigrants from Ireland, the West Indies, Southern Europe, India and Pakistan.

Having travelled through a host of Muslim countries, and in non Muslim areas like Rajasthan where women veil their faces against the sun, and in northern Mali where Tuareg men and women cover their faces to protect from the sand and wind, I’ve grown used to dealing with people whose faces I can’t see. Initially it was a bit strange, but it’s not that big a deal. Perhaps Hollobone has used a device called the Telephone which offers a similar experience allowing people to speak without seeing each other’s faces. Telephones were invented by an American, so they’re probably on his not-British-enough blacklist.

So much communication is non-verbal. As human animals, our brains are highly attuned to pick up facial expressions and body language, but legislating against people who don’t communicate well would involve a lisp ban, and perhaps prison sentences for mumbling?

Every counter argument I’ve read has been very quick to point out that the idea of women being forced to cover up by their misogynist husbands is abhorrent. And perhaps there are some cases of women who dream of skipping down the street without a blanket over them but can’t because of their husband’s enforced insecurities. However I suspect the reality is a bit different.

The conformity of the small Burka wearing community is probably a result of societal peer pressure from other women as much as men, and of previous generations. These are the same mechanisms that dictate how women dress in every other community. These particular standards may seem repressive to a culture unused to that level of prudishness, but it is normal in a lot of other places. There’s no malevolence and no reason for the huffy likes of Hollobone to feel insulted or threatened. The tribes of the Bijagos Islands, off Guinea Bissau, weren’t offended when I visited and wore more than just a leaf over my cock, even though they must have thought I was a bit weird for the T-shirt and trousers I had on. I can’t imagine being forced to conform to a level of nudity I’m not used to.

Amidst all this liberal and reactionary posturing, has anyone thought to ask Burka wearing women how comfortable they’d feel if they weren’t allowed to wear their coverings in public? Surely the Muslim Council of Britain should be commissioning the research as I type.

The sort of sweaty toothed wife beater that forces his wife and daughters to wear a Burka against their will, will be just as happy to prevent his wife and daughters from ever leaving the home if they aren’t allowed to wear their sackcloth in public. Even if legislation could be devised to punish that small breed of chauvinist dinosaurs it wouldn’t be as effective as the erosion British multiculturalism is already reaping on those values. Values which will have vanished completely within a couple of generations. Rest assured his daughter is already poking that handsome Jamaican boy from school on Facebook or in video chat-rooms with horny teenage boys from Saudi. This is what makes 2010 Britain Great, yet the white indigenous British are scared to rejoice or take pride in that. Instead they reminisce about the days of the Spitfire or Geoff Hurst’s 1966 World Cup goals.

I’d like to think I was a liberal neo-feminist supporter of women’s rights, and all that fluffy stuff, but as a man I know what goes through a man’s mind when he sees a woman in a figure hugging outfit. I’m not the only man that has these thoughts. I’ve conducted widespread research (“Here, mate, you seen ‘er over there? Phoarrr!”).

So based on the fact that men are such predictable Neanderthals, women have two choices. Either they can play us, by power dressing, reducing us to the loin driven simpletons that we are at heart, or secondly perhaps with a little more dignity, they can refuse to play. The idea that a woman chooses to keep the sight of her beautiful hair, or her beautiful face exclusively for the view of the man she loves, isn’t that alien from the idea that most British women wouldn’t flash their tits at every stranger in the street.

Rather than focussing the blame on "these people", (a phrase that is only ever used to thinly disguise racist contempt), - these dark skinned Muslim Johnny Foreigners with their suspicious religion and spicy food, who cover their women folk with potato sacks, - I'd say that every man who’s ever had a randy thought about a female stranger should stand up and say “I am to blame for women covering themselves in this ridiculous way”.

And that’s why the Burka is ridiculous. Women can’t escape the fact that men find them attractive. It's genetic. We'd have died out if it wasn't. It's not a bad thing, because most of us men manage to restrain our urges to a tolerable level.

The Burka is not the daftest thing worn in the name of religion; skull caps, circumcised foreskin, catholic guilt, protestant restraint, bishops hats, turbans, Bindis, saffron robes and shaved heads are also pretty ridiculous. So are high heels, hair straighteners, eyelash curlers, and make-up bags. But the best thing about Britain is that we indignantly tolerate it all, until it eventually adds to the net worth of our unique culture in some unexpected way we would never have predicted.

In the final assesment, a law that forces a lady to strip off her clothing is absolutely "not the British way". It wasn’t in the gentlemanly days of the 1950’s, and even more so, it isn’t now.

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