'A modern day journey through the wild western Balkans'

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Unveil yourselves I say!

The subject has rocked Europe like few other 'cultural clashes' that i have witnessed since escaping the yankees in Bolivia. It's yet another white man insensitivity subject that even has socialists and revolutionaries saying 'hey, hold on a second!'. It's the veils. Yes, the veils that many Muslim women around the world traditionally wear.

I'm not going to get into the wrongs and rights, just to give a bit of perspective. Listen.

I see the words veil and headscarf being used by white Europeans in many contradictory contexts. Let's clarify. Hijab is a headscarf that covers the hair and usually wraps around the neck. The veil is often interpreted as being the ninja outfit, where womens heads are completely covered so as to see only the eyes, or in some cases nothing at all. Taleban style if you will. This is called the nikab. Westerners use the word veil for both things, get it straight whitey. So opposition to the veil isn't even a clear issue from within the opposing side.

For clarification the difference should be noted. Hijab in Islam actually means modesty or privacy. And it is believed that women should practice modesty both for themselves but to keep the gazing eyes of man down. The khimar is the actual headscarf. The veil that covers the entire face is called the nikab.

Islam requires women to be modest, henceforth many of them wear the hijab, or headscarf. The nikab, or taliban style cover, is not an Islamic practice. A Fatwa, or Islamic legal pronouncement makes it clear that women are not obliged to wear nikab - but rather this is a cultural issue within more conservative or radical interpretations of Islam (just like the west has some Christian right wackies).

The French caused an awefully painful row within their already highly strained relations with French Muslims, mainly of northern Africa descent, by banning hijabs in public schools. It most certainly raised even more anti-Muslim sentiment but also more anti-French sentiment even amongst it own non-Christian communities. Whether the French will ever admit it or not, they have a serious racism problem - and its aimed mainly at Muslims and Africans. The Germans have passed similar laws, much to the dismay of its large Turkish-Muslim population.

The Brits, famous for their true melting pot status amongst the Europeans, have began treading in this murky water. Jack Straw is calling for a ban of veils, or nikabs, in the UK. Not the ban on hijabs. The well integrated, but edgy Muslim community is not so happy about this. With the ultra liberal socialist mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, even backing the idea - I think many Muslims see it as the drawn sword. And I'm afraid it could get ugly. But if the UK Muslims are listening to Mr. Livingstone, he's on to something. He clearly stated that he feels the veils should go -- but that it should be over a period of time and from within the Muslim community. It shouldn't, he added, be decided by a group of old white male politicians. Not to mention that many Muslim women scholars are saying women should thank Jack Straw for this.

I'm by no means an expert on veils. What i do know is that there are many, many woman who absolutely voluntarily and willingly cover themselves with a headscarf for religious purposes. Most of the European peasantry covered themselves with a headscarf just a hundred years ago and can still be found in christian villages throughout eastern and southern europe. It is also true that many Muslim cultures in the world 'oblige' their women to wear the veil. So the voluntary and involuntary. Willing and unwilling. France says no head scarves, no nothing -- look like a sexy french school girl with your belly button hanging out. The Brits haven't ventured that far, they accept the head scarf, but oppose the ninja turtle look.

Turkey has a similar issue. In its bid to become a secular society -- and to integrate into the unwelcoming arms of the European Union, it has forbidden even the nikab and in some places even the hijab in public schools and universities. Sarajevo now has a large female Turkish population coming to study here so they can wear what they wish. This to me is a fascinating occurance.

The west, so-called champions of democracy, freedom of expression and religio,n is on the attack - or as some percieve on the defensive - when Islam is in question. Sarajevo and Bosnia enjoys the best of both worlds. It is Europe's largest 'indigenous' Muslim population, all of whom are white Europeans and embrace European principles. Bosnian Islam is very secular, and indeed seen by most European leaders as a model example of the type of Islam they want being taught in their increasing number of mosques and madressa's within the EU. The question of hijab and nikabs hasn't come up yet here in Bosnia. The hijab is accepted and tolerated, as are the nikab wearers (which is an extremely small percentage of Muslim women).

The progressive west is certainly faltering when it comes to questions of its growing Muslim populations and addressing the cultural and religious difference between east and west. The Muslims too have yet to seriously address the fears and concerns of 'indigenous' white westerners - who have opened their doors from some of the worlds worst economically and socially oppressed societies. This door has to swing both ways. The west must do more to grasp the concepts of Islam - and understand the vast cultural differences even with the large and diverse Muslim community, which covers three continents. Muslims too need to understand the fears and concerns of secular westerners who now have to deal with strict Islamic rules within their own communities.

If western women can run around half naked, can eastern women completely cover themselves? Is there really a difference?

There is no black and white my friends. We all need to take the veils off...and look at each other eye to eye. Brother to brother, face to face, let's unite the human race.

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