Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Veil of separation

I am reminded of the cowboys and indian movies that I used to watch on Saturday afternoons way back in the 1970s. Besides the Red Indians, a town was often terrorised by 'Cowboy' robbers who almost always masked their faces using a handkerchief or something similiar. They looked sinister and everyone except the town sherriff was afraid of them. The Red Indians never did rob banks. Instead, they tend to go for the throat.

Well, ok, much of this is fantasy and a slur and typecasting of certain types of people. If was unfair to cast Red Indians as always the evil aggressors and the 'white men' as whiter than angels. But the men and women with the covered faces robbing banks and shooting indiscriminately in the air and at people stuck. Which is why when I see people with covered faces, that sinister imagery comes to mind.

Some Muslim women veil themselves in public today. The veil hides everything except the eyes. Like the masked cowboys, they look sinister. I know that putting a veil over oneself is a very personal and religious thing, but when one lives in a community consisting of different people with different faiths and beliefs, you cannot blame anyone for saying that he wishes these women would lose their veils. That is what Jack Straw, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Salman Rushdie wished. I support them. If I read it correctly, even the Koran does not insist on the veil. So people who veil themselves are not so much following a religious injunction as much as they are submitting to an arbitrary human craving or rule imposed by certain people. At its worst, this is akin to slavery. Now, is such slavish behaviour something to be proud of, even in religious context?

It is sad that in the modern world today, in an age of universal suffrage where men and women have equal rights, duties and responsibilities, there are women who still go around publicly asserting their submissiveness. Now I am not saying that this is wrong per se, but that if you want to indulge in submissive behaviour, then do it at home and not on the streets and certainly not when you need to see your MP.

Otherwise, what message are they sending to the rest of the community? That they are separate, holier than thou, mightier in spirituality, or what? All of which reminds me that some time ago, the Singapore Education Ministry disallowed all Primary school students, particularly those from Muslim families, from wearing the tudung or headscarf within school compounds. The government's justification then was that it doesn't want a separate identity to be established within the school system, which might become divisive over time. What Mr Straw, Mr Blair, Mr Rushdie and Mr Brown have said echo this same position espoused by the Government in Singapore as early as 2002.