October 14, 2006


Don’t attack the veil
(Rod Liddle, The Spectator, October 14th, 2006)

And in attacking those who wear the full veil — rather than countering the bitter, misogynist ideology which insists that women disport themselves with modesty lest they incite the uncontrollable urges of men — we do ourselves down. In our confusion, faced with a coherent, intractable and antithetical ideology, we flail at the wrong targets and leave ourselves open to the one charge which we should reasonably be able to level at the Islamists, without being gainsaid: intolerance.

The veil — whether a gentle covering of the hair with an agreeably patterned silk scarf or the full burka — matters only in that it is a symbol of female subjugation. The varying extremes to which Muslim women will (‘voluntarily’) go in order to comply with their religious strictures does not matter one jot; what matters is the central tenet, that women need to dress this way because otherwise they will be culpable for the lascivious attentions of men. That they are thus guilty of contributory negligence. And that, further, women have a clearly defined and specific role in life, which is to support their menfolk and do as they are bidden.

The best response from us Western liberals, I would suggest, is to counter this primitive, bigoted ideology in public, and leave those individuals who adhere to it alone. Attack the cause, not the practitioners. In other words, do not allow our state schools to cede one inch to ‘local community leaders’ who insist that the girls should be allowed — or forced — to wear approximations of Muslim dress as part of the school uniform, as happens up and down the country. Make the girls wear exactly the same costume as every other girl in the school, with no concessions to creed. Let’s face it: if a white, Christian girl petitioned a headmaster or local education department to allow her to cover herself up from top to toe because she feared the predatory attentions of her male co-students, she would be sent to the school psychiatrist.

Mr. Liddle is an honest enough Islamophobe to admit that the veil is a red herring. It is their faith that must be destroyed.

More: Most people want Muslims to try harder to integrate, poll reveals (Julian Glover, The Guardian, October 14, 2006)

Today's poll shows that 53% of voters think Mr Straw was right to suggest that the full veil creates a barrier between Muslim women and other people, with only 36% believing he is wrong on the issue.

Mr Straw also won support this week from Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, who writes in the current issue of the New Statesman magazine that "if you want equality you have to be in society, not hidden away from it".

She voices regret that women "whose mothers fought against the veil ... now see their daughters taking it up as a symbol of commitment to their religion".

The poll shows that support for the full veil is stronger among women than men.

Don’t you just hate it when you do all that work to liberate women from their clothing and the ungrateful wenches thank you like this? Honestly, the cheek of some people.

Posted by Peter Burnet at October 14, 2006 10:36 AM

Polls? Sure Lenny lots of rabbits.

Posted by: erp at October 14, 2006 11:01 AM

Yes, unreformed, their religion presents a problem, and an aspect of it is the subjugation of women.

Peter, did you read Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy and boo when the wife finally leaves the home? Didn't she know being shut up at home was a sign of modesty and rebellion agains the secular west?

BTW, this has about as much to do with freedom of religion as criticism of someone's views has to do with censorship.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 14, 2006 11:29 AM


Haven't read it, but I might have cheered. However, is freedom of religion only to be celebrated when it involves fleeing from or rejecting orthodoxy but never when one chooses to embrace it?

Posted by: Peter B at October 14, 2006 11:43 AM

Peter, I get your point.

In many cases I support Muslims when it comes to the suicidal secular, anti-religious left.

I just stop short of much of the treatment of women. I don't have a problem with head-covering scarves. It's the veil and the burka that are a problem, and it's not because these represent deference to God, but because imo the author of the quoted article is correct in arguing "that that women need to dress this way because otherwise they will be culpable for the lascivious attentions of men."

When I've spoken with people who've grown up and/or otherwise lived in places like Pakistan or the "desert" Arab states that is the point they've made in criticizing such practices.

Of course, the cloistering of women in the home, and the burka are not necessarily Muslim, but owe more to the culture, which is why they can be reformed.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 14, 2006 12:00 PM

Peter: if it's an individual choice, I can live with that. But if women who don't wear the scarf or veil or burka are attacked, raped, mutilated, or murdered because they don't, I can't.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 14, 2006 12:13 PM

Freedom of religion also means having the ability to reject a religion which expect a privileged postion in all societies, even as it rejects all the foundations of those societies. One where its god justifies all its believers actions and none of them are everr esponsible for those actions, as it's "God's will". Such a religion is antithetical to a society based on liberty.

Which is why Islamophiles have embraced the homosexual tactic of imputing mental illness upon anyone who disagrees with them. (Hey, let's give this tactic it a name and call it sullivanism!)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 14, 2006 1:13 PM


So you are opposed to the Amish and Orthodoz Jews? Sorry, freedom of religion does not mean one has the right to remain in a religious community or religious home while acting out the rejection of that religion or its commonly-held tenets. If anyone is being held captive or enslaved, that has to be fought, but let's not inflict a 'halter-tops in the mosque" routine on them, please.


Who could? But I seem to be the only one around here investing any time in trying to figure out what Muslim women say they want. The rest of you amateur koranic scholars just haul out your favourite suras and condemn the whole thing as a package. As far as I can tell, women are calling for reform throughout the Muslim world, but almost none are blaming Islam. In fact, much of the reformist spirit seems to be built on a religious resurgence. Not even the appallingly treated women of Afghanistan and Pakistan are pinning it on the faith. So I wonder whether Raoul and others would say all half a billion of them are suffering from a mental disorder or whether they can muster up the courage to just say they are all evil.

I think what is going on is so beyond the comprehension of the average Westerner that rather than do the hard work needed to understand, most just fall back on the extremes of either Islamophobia or multiculturalism.

Posted by: Peter B at October 14, 2006 2:46 PM

I have a lot of trouble believing that Moslem women of average intelligence after being assured by their religious leaders that Allah does not require that they wear burqas or veils; that Allah does not hold them responsible for men's lack of self control; that Allah does not demand that their male relatives kill them if they are victims of rape; that Allah does not condemn them to death if they befriend a man or woman who isn't a member of their sect or non-Moslem; that Allah does not condemn them to death if they choose to marry someone not chosen by their family whether they are Moslem or not; that Allah does not require genital mutilation; nor prohibit their attending school, working outside the home; driving a car, handling their own money, opening a business or traveling without their father's, husband's or other ruling male's permission.

If after Moslem women understand what Allah expects of them and are assured that they may live freely in the world without fear of repercussions from their community, they still opt to live hidden inside the harem, wear a burqa, give deference and obedience to every male in their family and do their mothers-in-law biding within the family, then and only then, will I believe they are doing it of their own free will.

However, and most important of all, knowing that Allah doesn't demand they live that life, they must allow their own daughters the freedom to make their own decisions on how they wish to live their own lives.

Polls? I wonder how the polling numbers would have looked at the concentration camps with the guards watching the wretched prisoners tell how dreadfully they were treated. Get a grip.

Posted by: erp at October 14, 2006 4:54 PM

Erp: Exactly. Maybe the women aren't "pinning it on the faith" because they know they'll be killed if they do.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 14, 2006 8:52 PM


The rest of you amateur koranic scholars just haul out your favourite suras and condemn the whole thing as a package.

What do your favorite suras say about apostasy, or the treatment of disobedient women?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 14, 2006 9:30 PM

I think what is going on is so beyond the comprehension of the average Westerner.....

I think this says a lot, Peter. Have any of you ever sat down with Muslims, or just one? Particularly in their own setting. The blank looks are sometimes just what they appear to be. All Muslims have a koran but few can read them. Their whole thought process is given them by the immam or spiritual leader. The average muslim does not contemplate anything outside of what is told them. You see on TV a spokesman, or read about a spokesman saying this or saying that. His agenda or his groups agenda. The average muslim hears what is said to them at the mosque and consider that a universal truth among all imams. We know its not but they don't. I would bet the farm the majority of muslim women, if they thought about it at all, would not want to change one iota of their dress. You're dealing with something here that does not have an outside. it's all internal, and if I had another farm to bet I'd put it on betting not one ordinary muslim woman is today thinking about shucking her tradition dress.

It may change some day. What doesn't?

Posted by: Tom Wall at October 14, 2006 11:16 PM

Today's poll shows that 53% of voters think Mr Straw was right to suggest that the full veil creates a barrier between Muslim women and other people, with only 36% believing he is wrong on the issue.

Whatever you think about it, it's damn hard to argue with that opinion.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 15, 2006 2:32 AM

Look at us and know that we will crush you.

See us and understand that you cannot endure.

Feel us, and laugh, if you dare, that your laws and so-called values, dismal though they are, provide us with indomitable strength.

You might as well give up and choose the right path sooner rather than later. Why prolong your agony?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 15, 2006 5:01 AM


You make an interesting point, but I'm not sure it doesn't say as much about our perception of them as the reality, particularly when, as here, we are talking about Muslims in the West. We see those films of them all bowing with their nether parts pointed skywards in the mosques or crowds of peasant women ululating and our impression is, as you say, of people locked into a closed, inaccessible mindset like 18th century Sicilian peasants. We can't fathom them walking home from the mosque and thinking "Boy, is that Imam ever a jerk!"

But surely that doesn't work very well here in North America or in Europe. They are all educated, most go to state schools, the teens have jobs and win school prizes, etc. Yet still the religion seems to be getting stronger or more important for many. Some of this is attracting them to political Islamicism, of which we have to be intolerant--probably even more intolerant than we are--but I don't think all of it is and that is where our incomprehension lies. We are so locked into modern views of progress and radical cultural freedom that we can't conceive of any modern, educated person rejecting it. Does not compute! Do you think Jeff's quoting suras or erp's attribution of it all to ignorance or Papaya's to fear bespeak any less one-dimensional thinking?

Remember all those articles at the time of the Paris riots of how the perps in France and England were disaffected thugs whose Islamicism was just a convenient cover for urban rage and misogyny? Remember how all the Muslim leaders loudly condemned them PDQ? I don't believe for one minute these Muslim women choosing the hijab or veil are kowtowing to that. I think they are veiling as a rejection of it. But I've yet to see one insight around here as to how we can distinguish.

We have so convinced ourselves that all the problems and failures in the Middle East stem from Islam that we forget nobody in the West even thought about Islam until 1979 and that this is all happening after two generations of progressive secularism that got rid of the veil, sidelined the influence of the mosque and brought them Nasser, Hussein and Assad (all modern, anti-religious totalitarians into cult worship) as well as such paradises as Somalia and the delights of sub-Sahara Africa. Islam was a joke on the margins of influence in the Middle East from WW1 to Khomeini. The point of the Guardian article is that young, educated, modern Muslims are rejecting their parents' secular ways, not that they are ignorant prisoners of a 1400 year old imposed tyranny that they can't see beyond. It seems clear that for many of them Islam is their response to failure and also a rejection of our ways, not the cause of it. It's cultural, not political, or at least not necessarily political. And that upsets and scares us a lot more than Osama.

The proper analogy is not an ignorant peasantry in Quebec or Ireland ground down by ultramontane Catholicism. The proper analogy is young Jews rejecting the liberalism of their parents and turning to orthodoxy by choice.

Posted by: Peter B at October 15, 2006 5:28 AM

Well, Barry, if you are right that that represents mainstream thinking among them, we might ask ourselves why we just keep repeating they are beholden to a cult that can't possibly survive in the modern world and that keeps them in those "failed states" we just know are all going to collapse any time now, once we finish educating them.

The US overthrew Hussein in days and has been killing the enemy in huge numbers since then, but still they keep coming and everybody is now either flirting with sedition or desperately and nervously trying to figure out an exit strategy. NATO is smashing the Taliban with a 200-1 kill ratio, but still they keep coming, no one will provide needed relief forces and sophisticated Canadians and Brits in Starbucks "know" we just can't win. Iran is building a bomb and who believes anymore anyone will stop them? Israel smashed Hezbollah by any objective measure but is convinced it lost and the Middle East now has a new poster boy. Somalia just fell to the Islamists because nobody--certainly not the Christians or US government could save them from brigands, rape and pillage. Educated Muslims in the West are looking at the modern enlightenment around them, saying no thanks and donning the veil. And all we can say is: "What ignorant savages. Don't they realize their medieval thinking is doomed? Thank goodness for the bomb that will protect us forever. Say, did you see those crazy evangelicals are at it again about evolution? We've got to stop them once and for all. BTW, how is your divorce coming along?".

Orrin has been warning about this for years, but most around here find it more fun to just dismiss him as a loony or closet Muslim.

Posted by: Peter B at October 15, 2006 6:11 AM

...we might ask ourselves why we just keep repeating they are beholden to a cult that can't possibly survive in the modern world and that keeps them in those "failed states" we just know are all going to collapse any time now, once we finish educating them.

Alas, because we fear what we will eventually have to do to survive; and we hope they'll just "go away" on their own accord (or learn to co-exist). And so we invent all kinds of rationales why our fears will not have to be realized.

And we ignore.

And we deny.

And we bend.

And we, all the while, continue to hope....

But they won't go away (and those who wish to co-exist will be powerless in the larger scheme of things, intimidated into silence and/or submission).

And we'll eventually have to do precisely that which we don't want to do (that is, if there's still time to do so).

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 15, 2006 6:44 AM

Rod Liddle is a neocon? Who knew?

Peter, if you'd restrain for a moment your frantic, daft enthusiasm for importing alien sexual and cultural pathologies as physic for the ills of the West, you might not be missing the bleedin' obvious here. Liddle et al. are not, at bottom, talking about the values of Muslims, or what Muslim women do or do not want. They are asserting their values, and find veiling antithetical enough to their values, that it comes very close to, or crosses, the line of tolerance. There is no "incomprehension", on either side. (There is no rhetorical tic more tiresome than "you only disapprove of me because you don't understand me". Beats out even "Islamophobe".)

As Mr. Liddle, to the best of my knowledge, is no disciple of messianic Westernization, one can hardly gainsay his right to throw down the gauntlet, on his own home turf, of what's on and what ain't.

Posted by: Moira Breen at October 15, 2006 12:49 PM


Sorry, but it is obvious that is precisely not what Liddle is doing. If he were just saying the veil or this or that other custom is antithetical to our values, I'd listen to him, but he has decided the whole package is misogynist trash he can hold in contempt without listening, discriminating or even thinking. More.

Posted by: Peter B at October 15, 2006 2:06 PM