Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The veil is wrong, UKIP is more wrong

I strongly disagree with the veil, and all of its more severe relatives, including the hijab, the niqab and the burkha. But if it was banned, as a member of the British far-right euro-sceptic UKIP party has suggested, I would wear one in public and walk around in protest. It would probably say something like "The veil is wrong, UKIP are more wrong and a bunch of fascists" or somesuch similar. Let me explain.

I think the veil and Islamic dress is both bonkers and wrong for two reasons. Firstly, religion is a personal matter: you and you alone should chose what god(s) to believe in, and your relationship with that god(s) goes on in your head. No religion should impose a dress code on its people, full stop.

Secondly, Islamic dress does discriminate against women. This is no surprise given the major world religions discriminating against women throughout the course of history. But in a modern world where we can, should and often do believe that men and women are equal, it's unacceptable to demand that all women should wear clothing covering themselves in public. I'm not saying women and girls should run round with their tops off (or am I? Nudism has its place and some sound principles). But saying that men "should" do X and women "should" do Y is an idea that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

However. Let's not fool ourselves that UKIP want to ban the veil in a sudden blaze of feminism. They and others on the conservative/right side of politics throw that point in like an afterthought, unrelated to their other arguments, as if just saying the words will somehow illustrate that they're not fascists after all.

UKIP do not want to ban the veil because they care about women's rights, they want to because they hate Muslims and brown people.

But UKIP's xenophobia is kind of besides the point on Islamic dress. If you were to decide that the veil is a bit backward (as I do), you don't achieve anything by banning stuff and deciding what people can and can't wear in public. You achieve it by encouraging people to choose for themselves, and rendering the rules of religion pointless and out of step with what people want.

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