Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Beyond the veil

Right through the veil

A lot of commentary has gone in the talk of unveiling the veil which gained some serious press when Jack Straw, the leader in the UK House of Commons revealed that he always entreated veiled visitors to his constituency surgeries to remove the veil.

As Nkem in African Shirts highlights, whilst he submitted the issue of communication, he was really pushing the issue of integration – both in my view are important.

Coming from an African society, Nigerian in particular, it was a sign of disrespect or obstinacy to look elders in the eye when being spoken to or when speaking to elders. In fact, rarely do we look each other in the eye when communicating even amongst peers, it is deemed confrontation and aggressive that it rarely happens.

Look me in the eye

When I moved to the UK, this cultural thing came with me, but then I realised all too soon that people expected you to look them straight in the eye when conversing, it represented honesty, truthfulness and sincerity – I was at the risk of being condemned untrustworthy for not interacting in the expected manner.

The expected manner being the culture and norms of forms of conversation in the UK, this regardless of the fact that I for a while from the age of 6 to about 25 the dominant culture in my life was Nigerian.

In these modern times, we are used to various forms of communication; the telephone by which variations in tone and inflexion can convey a manner and demeanour; emails or letters where hopefully thought and expression are used effectively; online chat which allows for casual forms of communication or Short Message Service (SMS) test messaging on mobile phones.

Senses in communication

The list is not exhaustive, but these allow for communication without the need for physical contact. However, when the person with whom I am communicating is in my presence, then, I expect with all the available senses I have at my disposal to interact with varying levels of intimacy.

Recognition (sight) of whom I am meeting, then a handshake (touch), as part of an introduction and greeting that would be voiced (hearing), if we are wearing cheap cologne or perfume (smell) and (taste) in a kiss, if we are a lot more intimate.

Some people might have some of their senses deprecated and then would have to rely on other senses to interact – Helen Keller – who was both deaf and blind used her hands to feel faces and communicate.

My point, when there is a presence to communicate; concealing the face does become an impediment to communication.

Where we are from is not where we are

Now, there are cultures and locations in this world where covering the face with slits for the eyes are signs of chastity and purity, that place in not in Europe.

My view is that we should definitely bring the best integrating bits of our foreign cultures to meld with host cultures for the promotion of understanding of where we are from, those bits of our cultures that separate us such that it creates division rather than interest and inquiry do not help us get assimilated into host cultures.

The freedoms the West offers us to be who we are should be not taken to the point that our expressions of values go against the grain of cohesion and the fostering of community relationships.

We are who we are, yes, but we are no more the dominant culture when we leave our indigenous lands of origin.

Basically, I do not see this as an Islam issue, it is basically a cultural-integration issue where people forget that freedoms they enjoy in freer societies should encourage them to integrate rather than look for ways to dissociate and be separate.

People who read this along religious lines are just looking for conflict rather than conciliation and shame on them.

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