Sunday, July 19, 2009

Veiled Reflections

The veil/niqab controversy won't die in France. It may seem weird to countries like the US or the UK, where just about all the forms of religious extremism or communautarism are openly tolerated, and where communities live among themselves, in ghetto-like quarters where people from different cultures don't mix.Usually people from those two countries look down on what's happening in France or in latin countries with a sort of kind superiority, claiming they're more tolerant, and we're all backward, stuck-up people who won't see the error of their ways.

Still, at least here we wonder, we question. We do not automatically validate everything that gets thrown our way. We try (and often fail) to promote the mix of cultures, to ban ghetto-like suburbs or quarters (but here our nice and gentle and well-educated bourgeoisie doesn't help much). And this latest controversy concerning women (not many) who flaunt the use of the niqab (complete veil which doesn't even let you see the eyes of the person) as some twisted revendication of ethnic roots is one well worth having.

Yes, the use of the niqab in the public spaces (streets, public transports, cinemas, restaurants, cafes, etc.) must be forbidden. Yes, we should not even try to argue with all the false defenders of "freedom" (which, here, is nothing more than another word for "oppression plan deployment"), and simply fall back on the obligation for everyone to be garbed in a manner that will allow them to be identified if a police officer requests it. Still, for the sake of being clear about it, here's my view on why things such as the niqab should be forbidden in all western countries, and all countries which claim they grant women a true status of equality with men :

The niqab acts like a tool of isolation and exclusion of all "others", no matter who or what those "others" may be, no matter what their nature or gender. It's a very simple, direct and primal effect: it's visual and physical both. Anyone who passes by a person wearing the niqab (ou can't tell whether it's a man or a woman) cannot help but respond, on a reflexive level, the same way you'll stare when you notice something out of place close to you, whether you want to, or not.

Beyond the obvious denial of self wearing a niqab represents (denial of one's image to others, and thus denial of self), this garb is the perfect symbol of the denial of the feminine identity, and of the rejection of a woman as a "woman", female human being and equal (even if different) to the male human being, a.k.a. "man".

The "inner beauty" fantasy or the "beyond apparences" rationale cannot resist analysis: we're human beings. As such, we cannot help responding to all external sitmuli: we react to appearances. Our gender is part of our identity and our image. To deny that is to deny oneself or worse, it's to drape oneself in hypocrisy.

And beyond all this, the niqab is as fundamentally disturbing in a western society as a woman wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse strolling in an Arab country would be: what isn't accepted there because it doesn't respect the country's customs has its equivalent here; and what doesn't shock there (having to adhere to the customs of the country in which you are) shouldn't shock here either (*).

When extremists from all the sides of the spectrum, the false defenders of a so-called freedom which is nothing more than a pretext to establish oppression, or those who seek after roots where they have no chance of finding them will understand this, we'll have taken a great step toward brighter days.

(*) cultural relativism has ery clear limits, which are drawn around oh-so insignificant things such as the universal declaration of human rights (which, incidentally, applies to women as well...)

Something else entirely:
A small, tiger-grey cat came to say hello in Koroni. A smile and a thought from our little one, a bit of light in the blue heavens. And memories, and feelings, and this crazy mixture of warmth, sadness and beautiful memories that nothing can shake. Our beloved little guardian still watches over us. And we remember him. We think about him. We love him.