Seems like the last week or two I've been fielding questions on the whole to-wear-or-not-to-wear the veil question. I guess what with it being an issue of feminism and religion it definitely falls in my court so here goes:
The idea, touted by Jack Straw, Tony Blair et al that the veil is alienating for non-muslims totally misses the point. The veil is not worn to create a barrier or as a symbol to show a woman's religion. The veil is worn because Islam teaches women that their bodies should not be seen because they are a temptation to men. Now pause> rewind> play>. Men are tempted by their bodies and that's their fault and they should cover up so men won't feel bad. You know if men are tempted by the sight of me in hot pants that is THEIR problem and THEY need to deal with it. The whole idea that women should blame themselves for the effect they have on men is ridiculous and offensive. It comes under the heading of well-if-you-wear-mini-skirts-you-deserve-to-be-raped school of thought and we don't believe in that rubbish.
The veil is also not required by anything in the Quran, which simply says men and women should dress modestly and women should use a their scarf to cover their bosom (not their eyes!). The idea that the hair and even the face must be covered comes from Islamic leaders - male ones - who use it as a means to oppress women. There is no end to the things that veiled women cannot participate in fully - sports, physical work, dance, theatre, and of course now meetings with Jack Straw...
I don't think we should prohibit adult women from wearing the veil if they wish to. Remember these women have been taught that they are revealing sexual parts of their bodies if they take the veil off, that's like saying women should go to work topless, which they shouldn't unless they really need the money to put themselves through college... We should however look with pity on those women who do wear it and who often do so insisting it is their own choice. These are victims of extensive long-term cultural brain-washing and intimidation from their own families and communities. These women need more contact with the outside world, not less.
As if to prove my point for me there is a very revealing interview on the BBC with Aishah Azmi, the teaching assistant who lost her job as a result of her insistance on wearing a full face veil. During the interview she is asked whether or not she wore her veil when she was being interviewed for the job by a male member of staff. Her reply is - and this is amazing to me - "Do I have to answer all the questions?". Now I put it to you that this is NOT a woman who lives her life freely based on her own choices. This is a woman who has been pushed around, who is used to being told what to do.
This case also highlights the fact that expecting school girls to wear the veil is sick in the extreme. Firstly because it teaches them that their pre-pubescent bodies are somehow sexual and secondly because they're too young to have made up their minds yet whether or not they are religious. We should never refer to Muslim children, or Christian children. They are the children of Muslim or Christian parents. We wouldn't talk about a 6-year-old capitalist or an 8-year-old existentialist. Children should be allowed to make their own decision about religion when they are 16 or 18 or older if they choose based on fair teaching, dealing in facts. This is covered in length in Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion as recommended in just about every other post I write at the moment!