Niqab Ban: What is the real debate?
Real debate vs waiting for the cheese board
If any one was waiting for some deep seated intellectual banter on Channels 4’s debate aired on 24th October about the Niqab in British society, they will have been sorely disappointed. Yes they had all the necessary elements including three articulate, educated Muslim women who held their own and defended the right of the Muslim woman to wear the niqab. And much like a stage production which is starting to look old, they also managed to wheel out the usual suspects on the other side. In this case they came in the form of Douglas Murray, Khola Hassan and Yasmin Alibhai Brown. And then all of a sudden, it felt like a dinner party in some decadent part of North London, where, to complete proceedings- the only other guest would have had to have been Stephen Fry.
And while we, well I for sure, sat there wondering what qualified Douglas Murray to talk about what women wear, I realised it was of course his disdain for Islam and Muslims which is so well documented. So if ever there were an opportunity to trot out his views about the subversive nature of Islamic radicalism, and link it to a six inch piece of cloth; this would be the time. And lo and behold!
As for the other panelists, they didn’t disappoint. Yasmin Alibhai Brown looked nervous. She would claim that a small victory, because I could see her face, making her point I’m sure. I think all those veiled women made her nervous. But that ladies and gentleman, was about the strength of each argument they produced. It felt like the dinner party had swung back round to politics and in this case, women and their dress code. Ms Alibhai Brown’s exclamation that woman in Niqab treated everyone else like they were ‘diseased’, was in fact a summary of how events proceeded. Reading almost like a Rudyard Kipling novel, where the superior worldview would of course concur that those ‘savages’ made the civilised ones’ feel dirty. It became all too clear, that intelligent discourse and hearing what Muslim women had to say, was off the menu. And as the cheese and crackers arrived, any level of superficiality and prejudice lined with ‘tolerance’ was in fact a superb accompaniment.
Now it must be said, that the sisters who sought to defend their Islamic dress tried in many respects to represent what most Muslim women know. That their choice to wear the niqab, is borne out of devotion to Allah and has and does not in anyway hinder them from having become, the educated upstanding personalities they clearly were. The problem was, much like a dinner party which goes uninterrupted with the anecdotal ‘putting the world to rights’ (in this case banning six inches of material over a woman’s face would make the world a better place); the stupidity of these very real archaic ignorance’s, were not called out.
Douglas Murray added very little to this discussion but shallow prejudices at one point remarking that because his face is uncovered, he can be outed if he makes a silly remark. But a Muslim woman cannot. She could just ‘run away’. And whilst, it would’ve been important to tell Mr Murray that his voice and vitriol are well recognisable, even if we didn’t see his visage- the wider point seems almost embarrassing to point out. How does not being able to see someone’s face make them invisible? Has he never heard of a thing called a passport and a national insurance number? Or maybe someone needs to explain to Mr Murray that if someone has gone all the trouble to come on TV in the first place donning the face veil, and putting their views in the public realm, none would be so stupid to then claim they didn’t say it? Obviously lost on Mr Murray. Maybe he wanted to widen his point to veiled women in daily life. But again, when would she turn up and then disappear like a whisper? When does that happen? At work? Shopping? Or is he claiming we use it for criminal activities?
The debate then proceeded in much the same vein. And all manner of Merchant Ivory production sprang to mind. E.M Forster, Henry James seemed truly near. At one point the discussion descended into such clichéd observations, I truly believed they would trot out Alec Guinness, Art Malik and Peggy Ashcroft from ‘A Passage to India.’ and the only way our dear sisters would be heard, is if the audience started proclaiming for the help of ‘Mrs Moore!’.
Muslim women are clearly not victims, and the rise of the visible signs of Islam through the Islamic dress code is testimony to its growth in most parts of the Western world. Such opportunities also must not be missed to present the case for Islam and not just the niqab. And while the ‘dinner party’ had no explanation for why their worldview is seemingly being rejected by a plethora of ‘western’ women in favour of Islam and it’s own world view; we can safely say that such debates can only take place if we leave Empire at the door, and engage in a discussion about what this is really all a mask or veil for. Which is that Muslim women want Islam. And why that is happening. And that does in fact, require an intelligent debate…… Think they need to move into the lounge for coffee and cigars now.
By Sultanah Parvin
Contact via Facebook (link will open new window) – https://www.facebook.com/sultanah.parvin
Note: Video – Debate: Should British women wear the niqab?
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent that of the Siyasah Press editorial board.