One Eye is Enough for Anyone

Andrew Anthony has a piece on the niqab, a female face-covering that leaves only the eyes uncovered (presumably so that the woman wearing it doesn’t need an expensive trained dog in order to grope her way around).

Just a decade ago, this form of enshrouding was seen as an unambiguous sign of female oppression and feudal custom, but now it is frequently referred to as an expression of religious identity, individual rights and even, in some cases, female emancipation.

Yes but emancipation from what.

She says that she deliberated for a whole year before finally deciding to wear the niqab. ‘I think the main thing that was holding me back was my university degree. I was doing a lot of course work, a lot of group work, and so I was constantly thinking, “How am I going to do group work with all these people?” Then one day, I just woke up and thought, “Why am I letting people stop me? I’m not doing it for other people.”‘ Both as a student and a teacher, Chowdhury clearly placed her own right to conceal herself above the group’s right to see her.

Well, presumably, the reason she was letting people stop her was that she had chosen a kind of work that necessarily involves interacting with ‘all these people’. She doesn’t have to be deciding to wear the niqab ‘for other people’ in order to have an affect on other people by doing so – the two things are separate. We can do all sorts of things for our own reasons that nevertheless do have an impact on other people as a byproduct. We may listen to Bruce Springsteen at top volume at 3 a.m. with all the windows open, for our very own reasons (we’re awake at 3 a.m., we like Springsteen, we like fresh air) that have nothing to do with other people, but our activity may affect other people all the same. So the thought she one day just woke up and thought was a stupid thought, because incomplete and irrelevant.

‘There is no place in the Koran,’ he said, sounding like the schoolmaster he once was, ‘that says she must wear the burqa. No place.’ In fact, the burqa, the grilled mask that is popular in Afghanistan, is a relatively modern item, but it’s true that there is no mention of the hijab, much less the niqab in the Koran. There are two key passages that deal with the correctness of women’s clothing…Over the centuries, various Islamic scholars have come to interpret these words as directives to cover the ‘pudendal’ nature of women in its entirety, which, they argue, is everything, including, in the most strict rulings, at least one eye.

There you go – that’s it, you see. Every bit of women (including that one eye – it’s just that seeing-eye dogs are expensive) is pudendal. They’re just big, walking, throbbing, wet genitalia. They may pretend they’re not – they may pretend to be thinking about something else – they may pretend they can talk and walk and think and laugh and eat and look at the birds and flowers and just generally be human, but it’s a pretense, a disguise, a trap. They’re like those horrible women in The Faerie Queen or Orlando Furioso or Jerusalem Delivered or Paradise Lost or The Shining – gorgeous, sexy, welcoming, smiling – until you touch them and then bam! out comes the hideous witch who devours you. Women are just disguised as people with brains and hands and legs and purposes and capacities; in reality they’re just big old ambulatory pudenda. Help me Jesus.

I was keen to hear a woman explain in her own words her reasons for covering herself. This was proving very difficult…The main aim of the niqab is to deter contact between women and men who are not married or related…I checked the etiquette on a Muslim website that detailed the requirements of a woman wearing a niqab. ‘Do not engage in social conversation with persons of the opposite sex,’ it instructed. ‘This is simple, just don’t do it. When a kaffir [infidel] of the opposite sex asks you, “Did you have a good weekend”, look down and say nothing in return.’

Yes, that is simple. Of course it is – it’s all simple. That’s the point. Women are nothing but pudenda, and they are entirely pudenda; therefore, they have to be concealed and confined as far as possible and even farther – but if a seeing-eye dog is not affordable then one eye can remain uncovered (though it’s risky). Simple. Don’t talk to people of the opposite sex. Any of them, ever, for any reason. Simple. A radically impoverished, constricted, narrow, suffocating life – simple. Enjoy.

I did try one couple…I then asked permission to speak to his wife. He looked at me as if I were mad and referred me to the Central Mosque. Would I be able to speak to a woman there? I asked. ‘No, of course not,’ the man said. ‘But there will be men there who will be able to tell you why it is best for Muslim women to be covered.’ His wife remained silent.

Ah – yes, no doubt there will. And if human rights inspectors go to Guantanamo, of course they won’t be able to speak to the prisoners, but there will be guards there who will be able to tell them why it is best for prisoners to be at Guantanamo. If investigators go the house of an exorcist, of course they won’t be able to speak to the devil-possessed children there, but there will be exorcists there who will be able to tell them why it is best for the possessed children to be beaten and starved and shouted at. And so on. Nice racket. Good wheeze.

Robert rejects the idea that if the niqab causes social unease, it undermines its purpose of creating calm. For her, being veiled is all about maintaining the private zone of her faith. But you could equally argue that it is just another way of making public the private. For what is this privacy but a public announcement of the sexually provocative nature of women? It does not challenge the idea of woman as sex object; it simply confirms it.

Just so. It simply confirms it, and puts all the work and deprivation of avoiding the provocation on the women.

I asked Robert at what age she thought a girl should start wearing the hijab in preparation for the niqab. She said that it was not necessary until puberty but as a matter of practice, it’s best to start at seven or eight. In its own way, this premature recognition of female sexuality is every bit as significant, and disturbing, as dressing a child in a high-street approximation of Britney Spears, all bare midriff and attitude.

Not to mention the life-long deprivation for both sexes of simple ordinary routine interaction. All because women have the bad taste and bad judgment to be walking pudenda. Sad.

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