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Monday, April 11, 2011


I have an uneasy feeling that France's burqa/niqab ban won't end well.

From today, it is illegal to wear one in public. To leave your home while wearing one is an intention, therefore, to commit a crime. Police will not have the power to remove it, nor will they insist that it be removed by the wearer. They will simply ask the wearer to accompany them to the station. Creepy, I say.
For those who don't know the variations on the theme.
The rationale for this has nothing to do with race or religion, we are told. It is simply a matter of security--people should not be allowed to hide their faces in public. Likewise, it will be illegal to wear a balaklava in pulbic, which will be a blow to skiers on the pistes of the Valle d'Ser (sp?).

Implications for street mimes, people on their way to fancy dress parties, commedia dell'arte troupes, Zorro and Batman impersonators, and the like, are still being worked out.

Clearly a security risk
In short, everyone wearing anything which masks their normal visage will be assumed to be going about incognito--lying about who they are, in effect. I mean, what good will the profusion of security cameras do if your physiognomy can't be captured and scanned and archived? How will the surveillance society we have become over the past 15 years or so function properly?
(Which begs the question: when did my right to ponce about like the Lone Ranger get eclipsed by national security imperatives? Not that I do...)

The Preach-for-Food solution: better latex-based masks. Any actor knows about the wonderful efficacy of foam latex to produce life-like flesh and facial features totally unlike our own, Mission Impossible style. If the problem is that the burqa/niqab prevents a view of a woman's face and hair, a view which would otherwise drive men wild with unrestrainable lust, simply ugly up, thus:
If, on the other, hand the mask on the right also drives you wild with lust, you may need to seek professional help.

But I jest and I digress.... A story from life, 'cause you couldn't make it up:

As many of you know, I live in a predominantly Islamic part of Manchester, the "Curry Mile" as it's called. The other day I was standing in a queue with a small group of Muslim women, dressed in full, black burqas. My sense was that they were related, as there was a small squad of kids running around between them, playing, seeming to know each other well. One very little muslim girl, shy at first, was clinging to her mother in all this mayhem, and gradually joined in the running around.

The Curry Mile: The Lahore of the North.
The queue advanced and the positions of these identically-clad women shifted. When the little girl had had enough larking about, she went back to look for her mother--and I watched as she stood there genuinely confused for a moment about who to run back to. She ran up to one woman and hugged her legs, and was gently corrected that, no, she was not her mother The woman who was her mother spoke up, and the girl ran back to her hug her legs, relieved.
A Muslim man and I had watched this exchange, and he smiled at me as if to say--"happens all the time in our world".

And in that moment  I kind of got how stupid and reactionary the burqa ban is--what the hell do I know about the complex and subtle daily negotiations around the burqa such folks go through every day? How do I know, for example, the sexual politics around it--that the woman under the burqa is actually being coerced into wearing it. How do I know that it is not a conscious choice which has costs and inconveniences she's prepared to deal with?

Come to that, living on the curry mile, I've felt a lot more threatened by the EDL thugs that roam the Muslim quarter looking for trouble,  than by any of the demure, polite, courteous muslim men and women I meet every day.

Security risk? Anyone can hide anything anywhere, if they want too bad enough. I mean, people sneak knives into jails, and in jail they look in your a**. As a security measure, the burqa ban, therefore, is a blunt instrument, and cannot in itself prevent a single terrorist act.

What it WILL do is further polarise an already intolerant social order, quietly demonise muslims, and perhaps prop up the fortunes of an unpopular President de la Republique, by taking support away from the far right Le Pen goons. It is populist fear-mongering travelling incognito.

How many Muslims do you think he included in his focus-group discussions?
While it targets the deeply held beliefs of a particular culture, last thing this is about is religion.

1 comment:

  1. "Watch what you say, they'll be calling you a radical" ;)