Friday, March 30, 2007

The Politics of a Veil

Ok, I know I said I was only going to write about Angola from now until we leave, but I can’t help it, I have to talk about this: because I’ve been having nightmares, ever since seeing Leading Seaman Faye Turney veiled on Iranian TV.

This is no small thing: this is not about having to adhere to ‘cultural sensitivity’ (whatever that is!). This is a symbolically loaded statement-of-intent on a much wider scale than a navy capture, disguised as a banal ‘necessity’ to cultural adherence.

There’s a visual incongruity about seeing a non-Asian western woman in a veil – and that’s no coincidence: the Iranian contrivers of this whole façade know damn well what a visual statement this is – and weight is added to this statement because of her isolated positioning as the only female in a team of male sailors – as well as the fact that she is a sailor at all: only very, very recently is the west beginning to open up its definition of the armed forces to include women into what has always been defined as a masculine sphere. Any such progress within Iranian armed forces was halted long ago: by veiling LS Turney on (what has now become) international television is to say: this is not a man – this is not a sailor – this is a woman – and she cannot be a sailor because a sailor is a man, and she is not a man – indeed she is nothing like a man, nothing close to being a man – they have nothing in common – and you, the West, have clearly forgotten that, so we are going to remind you… with a veil.

For women to integrate into the armed forces there has been a process of gender-blurring: a necessary critique of what is masculinity and how much (if at all) masculinity depends upon an anatomically male body. There has also been serious consideration for what attributes traditionally recognised as ‘feminine’ can contribute to the armed forces. By drawing deliberate attention to LS Turney, using her as the bartering tool, setting her aside, standing her apart, photographing her alone, these Iranians are saying: she is not one of the men, she is different – she is not a Man, she is Other. And she must be marked as Other – her Otherness must be signified and marked… with a veil.

I am appalled and angry. The sight of a non-Asian western woman in a veil might currently be an anomaly, but don’t feel so assured of its distance – of its rarity. Extremist-Muslims want a Britain under Shariah law: this is what Britain will look like under such a regime. The threat of Extreme-Islam is, above all its threats, a gender threat.

Before I post this, I want to make something clear. This is not a post about whether Muslim women should veil or not. Forced unveiling is absolutely no better than forced veiling: it smacks of violent coercion – it smacks of violence full stop – and it smacks of arrogance and western illusions of supremacy. The point here is the insistence upon a very physical, intimate, personal measure being enforced, as a deliberate, political, act of gendering, upon a sailor, who’s normal priorities would be towards her duties as a sailor, and not her sex.

Handmaid's Tale anyone??

For a veiling woman's take on the apparent prejudices of western feminism about the veil, click on the pic below:

Turbo Tagger

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