This Christmas, Channel 4 will transmit an ‘Alternative Christmas Speech’ given by one Khadija, a freelance (i.e. unemployed, presumably) lady Islamic scholar and enthusiastic apostle of the ‘niqab’, that is, the Full Monty of Islamic fashions for the fairer sex, to which Jack Straw and others so uncharacteristically object.
For those (like me) who are unfamiliar with Channel 4’s tradition in this regard (it has apparently been going on since 1993), the idea is to provide an interesting perspective on whatever they judge to have been the most important news story of the year.
In common with most apologists of the niqab, Khadija will, presumably, point out to us from beyond the veil that its growing popularity among young muslim women is their way of expressing how repellent they find the flagrant way their irreligious contemporaries (the fake tanned, scantily clad, walking, talking Occasions of Sin to be seen queueing up outside your local nightclub) deport themselves.
It’s very important in such circumstances, say these apologists, to make a statement: “I am covering myself up because I don’t accept that my body should be gawped at by young men; I don’t believe that’s what it’s for”.
A Good point I suppose. But then again if we look at it from another angle, I would suggest there really isn’t that much difference between the niqabi and the very people who horrify them (and me) so much: the herds of half-naked, Smirnoff Ice swigging ladettes to be seen on any given weekend, cackling and vomiting their way down provincial high streets the length and breadth of England.
I’m afraid that I cannot detect in either of these groups a mature sense of respect for the beauty and dignity of their own bodies. In both instances, the whole project of deciding how to dress seems to be conceived solely in relation to the question “what will men think?” For this reason alone, they will both put themselves in incredible discomfort – the ladette, shivering and goosepimpled at 3AM on Romford High Street, and the niqabi, starved of sunlight, muffled in speech and sinister in appearance.
To put it another way: the female body is understood fundamentally in relation to male domination of it. Comfortably dressed men expect that for their benefit, their women will go about the place in one or other of these preposterous get ups. Whether that preposterousness serves the purpose of lascivious leering or overscrupulous morality is quite secondary, the point is that there is no balance between the sexual dimension of the human body and the innate dignity it has simply by being a human body, by being the body of a beautiful, rational creature with an identity of her own. I am no ‘feminist’, but I’ll say this: by dressing in either the latest filth from Topshop or in the niqab, such women give their acquiescence to the chauvinism that sees womens’ bodies as the property of men.
All of this is a far cry, I’m delighted to say, from the fine example set by so many excellent young recusant ladies of my acquaintance who invariably dress with both elegance and modesty, avoiding excess of any kind.