Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Opinion: Before the law, the veil is removed

Our open outlook
There are many reasons as a Western European I love living here even as a minority of many sorts. Despite the occasional negatives of racism, deprivation, inequality and much else, we as a people are probably still the most tolerant, accommodating, liberal and gregarious of all humanity.
That might be disputed but on the whole, we live and let live; very rarely do we impose our views on others and apart from populists and rabble-rousers for political gain, we are a peaceable people.
Garb and barb
However, over the last decade or so, our liberal democratic values of separation of religion and state to varying degrees have been challenged by the ingress of cultures, traditions, beliefs and attitudes that are not fundamentally what we might call our historical Western Judeo-Christian heritage – some have balked, but most have acquiesced, we make allowances, many allowances at that.
Recently, it has been about religious garb, the matter of coverings and modesty vary just as our interpretations of what constitutes those might differ depending on our beliefs and customs.
Germans for instance are not afraid of nudity, in fact, it is called, Freikörperkultur (FKK) which translates literally to Free Body Culture, it is a movement quite different from nudist sun-bathing and any other forms of public nudity, but that is a topic for another day. [Wikipedia]
To veil and to reveal
Yesterday, in the UK, we pussy-footed around the issue of the use of the full veil in relation to Islamic tradition when a lady appearing in court for a completely different issue of witness intimidation took us on a legal distraction as to whether she could appear in court fully veiled and never have the requirement to take it off. [BBC News]
The wisdom of judges must be commended when they give their opinions on these very sensitive issues, because in this case, the judge was accommodating of the lady to allow her wear her veil in court during the proceedings but that veil had to be removed when giving evidence.
Indeed, anyone who takes the witness box should only be accorded privacy and the possible invisibility for their safety and privacy as we do with minors, however that cannot be extrapolated on religious grounds to prevent an essential instrument of recognition and expression critical to jury observation and assessment, court is beyond just the hearing of words in answer to questions and cross-examination.
The visage of safety
The primary mode of identification for the elimination of doubt and the building of communal trust is the face as far as Western Europe is concerned, if you must access the public space for the convenience of the majority, which implicitly includes safety and security, the face must be visible.
We are conditioned to believe that a covered face is indicative of an assumed criminality, and whilst a religiously modest and pious woman might well be the most law-abiding citizen around, having a veiled face introduces an unnecessary threat, redefining our conditioning whilst it also can be exploited to ulterior ends – it is an unnecessarily difficult accommodation that we have to tolerate.
Dressed to digress
Back to Germany, it was a case of whether a girl could be allowed to wear the modest burkini if she were forced to attend compulsory swimming classes and then the extended religiously-tinged demand of her parents to prevent her splashing around with scantily clad boys in the pool. [Wikipedia][Economist]
Whilst, the burkini is almost too much dress short of a wetsuit with the attendant issues that do not need much exegesis, it is quite an accommodation redolent of our liberal and tolerant disposition to many cultures different from ours, we find it acceptable enough to not only condone it but accept it as wholesome and fashionable for those who choose to don that garb of presumed modesty.
Freedom and entitlement
However, judges found this accommodation that first could not exempt the girl from co-educational swimming classes which is the norm, by stating that, “the basic right of religious freedom does not confer any entitlement to be spared from encountering, at school, the behaviour of third parties... [behaviour] which is widely observed in daily life, outside school, at certain seasons.
This construct should become both precedent and fundamental, because once again, the judges have identified the community of daily life as an unavoidable space of interaction available to the general public in which as human beings we are by choice allowed to participate and we cannot exclusively curtail that environment for the convenience of the few.
Freedom and allowance
The basic right of religious freedom is sacrosanct, you can practice it as fervently and fanatically as you will, but if you do not want to encounter the public in the observance of your beliefs, then the best accommodation we can afford is for you to absent yourself from that setting as a matter of right and privilege if of the age to exercise such a prerogative.
However, as a minor in Germany, where you must attend school and participate in activities that make up part of the curriculum, no entitlement is reserved to create exemptions to the point that each consideration if that situation arises creates disorder and chaos.
Adapt or depart
The broader point without stating it is the clich√© - when in Rome, do as Romans do, and if you so feel that you cannot do as Romans do, the Romans should not have to change or adapt their Roman ways to your requirements as an entitlement, else they will no more be identified by their Roman ways, nevertheless, you having arrived in Rome might well find ways to adapt to what Romans do or extricate yourself from Roman influence by being in a recluse or leaving Rome entirely.
Beyond this, we must be concerned about the influx of ideas beyond the need for safety and security in the public space that informs the regulation of the public space by granting specific entitlements to certain persons, groups or beliefs which will curtail the freedoms and liberties we as a majority have for the satisfaction and accommodation of others.
The blunter point in terms of these conflicts of religious adherence that challenge the freedoms we all enjoy is that the law is finding better ways to say; adapt to your current environment and circumstances or depart to where those beliefs you so espouse have unquestioned currency.

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