Sunday, October 15, 2006

Woolas thinking

Phil Woolas, New Labour Minister whose brief covers "race relations" has jumped into the veil debate with a considered and thoughtful call (Sunday Mirror) to sack Yorkshire teaching assistant Aishah Azmi for being a veil wearer.

Take off that veil, scumbagWoolas says "She is denying the right of children to a full education by insisting that she wears the veil." Ummm... what? How?

He continues "By insisting that she will wear the veil if men are there, she's saying: 'I'll work with women, but not men'. That's sexual discrimination." Except of course she is willing to work with men, she just doesn't want to remove the veil infront of them, a distinction which is lost on "Race Minister" Woolas.

Mrs Azmi, whose role is to provide support for kids who speak English as a second language, has an employment tribunal coming up because she had refused to remove her veil in front of male colleagues. The school has argued that she is unable to communicate effectively whilst wearing the veil, to which she has responded:

"If people think it is a problem, what about blind children? They can't see anything but they have a brilliant education, so I don't think my wearing the veil affects the children at all."

But no, the question goes far deeper for Woolas. "There are limits in a liberal democracy. There are boundaries in a democracy and this is one of them. It's a boundary we can't cross." Well, you might not be able to cross it but I can.

You can have democracy as long as you do as we say?


Mike Armstrong said...

Houzan Mahmoud of the the Organisations of Women's Freedom in Iraq gives a clear guide to the veil.

The veil is not merely a piece of "cloth", but a sign of the oppression of women, control over their sexuality, submissiveness to the will of God or a man. The veil is a banner of political Islam used, to segregate women born by historical accident in the so-called "Islamic World" from other women in the rest of the world.

Mike Armstrong said...

Also see Philobiblon for a feminist take on "The veil question..."

Ed said...

Mike - the veil might be all of those things, but the fundamental issue is that it should be a woman's choice whether she wears it or not.

I think a lot of the anti-veil arguments from the left misses the point. Very often the point is made that women are pressured or coerced into wearing the veil. If this is the case what we oppose surely is that coercion - not the veil itself. If a woman doesn't have a free choice to wear it than that is the problem - the coercion - not the veil itself.

It's also argued (and this is the point Houzan Mahmoud is making) that the veil symbolises and reproduces women's oppression. I tend to agree with that actually - I don't like seeing women in full face covering head-dress. But if it is the case that the headdress oppresses women then it's up to the women themselves to make the decision not to wear it any more. The thing can't be settled by decree or fiat from on high.

Jim Jay said...

First of all Woolas is offended by the sight of foreign looking women and does not mention, even in passing, women's oppression as his reason for opposing it.

Second, does it not strike you as contradictory to say that the veil is "control over [women's] sexuality" so we're going to forbid them from wearing it.

Who are you to tell someone else what to wear? If someone makes choices you don't like, get used it, tough cookie comrade.

Why is the veil singled out as a symbol of women's oppression and alone of all women's garments the one that it is acceptable to demonise women for wearing?

Philobiblion is great, and I completely agree with her when she says "grown women who have sufficient independence in their life to have the freedom to genuinely make their own choice should be able to choose to wear the niqab if they choose" unfortunately the whole emphasis at the moment is for Westerners to tell people from other cultures what they are allowed to do /wear / etc rather than attempting to empower people to make those decisions for themselves, and defned thier right to make choices "we" would not necessarily make.

Sean Thompson said...

Ed is absolutely right. If we stand for the right for women (or men) to wear whatever they want then that has to include all dress - including that which we ourselves think offensive, sinister or just plain daft.

A problem arises when the issue is whether or not particular clothing or the lack of it affects someone's ability to do their job (as the school management claim in this case). For example, I wouldn't go to the barricades to defend the right of a building worker to go on site without a hard hat when it is a requirement of his/her employer and while I entirely support that peculiar chap who walked starkers from Lands End to John O'Groats I wouldn't object if Tescos told him to put on some trousers before his shift on the check out.

LeftyHenry said...

People should be able to where whatever they want. The last line of this entry really sums it up.

Arshad said...

Veiling is individual choice. If you don't like it, legislate and ban it as some so called Muslim countries have done.
May I kindly invite you to my blog
where I try to look at issues through an Islamic perspective.

Jim Jay said...

Just came across this interesting article which people may find 'helpful'.

Personally I'm opposed to all moves to ban the veil Arshad, as people should have a free choice.

If I was a young muslim woman today I would want to wear one simply on the basis that the government is telling me not to... why can't they go back to moralising against binge drinking and drug taking?

Jim Jay said...

Incidently. Jack Straw's original comments were about the veil being a barrier to communication.

Mr Straw, Do you think pissing off the entire Muslim community and whole load of othjers besides might also be a barrier to communication - can you Jack see you may have created a barrier between yourself and even non-veil wearing constiuents, even if you have ingratiated yourself with the racists.