Friday, 5 March 2010

Islam and the modern girl

HOW many ironies do you see in this photo?
The girl who cannot be seen but who is eager to capture the spirit – and the detail – of the world around her in photo form.
The concentration on the eyes, because that is all her Muslim dress allows on show. The eagerness of those eyes to see – and, who knows, perhaps to be seen as well?
Given the Qur’an’s ban on figurative art, both could be seen as contradictory to her dress code.
Mohamed objected not just to representations of the human body, but to pictures of any kind.
Or that, at least, is a long-held interpretation. Just as the code that causes this girl to cover up in public is an interpretation of his medieval views.
But she doesn’t seem to object to being caught on film herself by my friend Christos. A Greek holidaying in Turkey, which may almost seem to be some sort of irony in itself.
The shot was taken in Istanbul, where both Chris and the unknown girl were apparently tourists, both wielding their respective lenses.
But a mobile phone and the modest hijab? Isn’t the greatest irony here the clash of ancient and modern?
Not really. Because both are in fact modern fads – at least away from the Arab world, where covering the face with a scarf is a time-honoured custom. Surely as much to keep out a dusty wind as to follow Mohamed’s instruction for women to dress demurely in public.
Away from parts of north Africa and the Middle East, this mode of dress is a recent development. An invented tradition.
While it’s become fairly commonplace on the streets of London and some other British cities, it hasn’t caused the furore here that it has in France.
The French government has banned the wearing of veils in school, causing an outcry among those who see the move as racist or anti-Muslim.
I don’t think it’s really either of those things. In fact, it’s one of the few things the present French regime has done that I support.
Another contact of mine, Suzanne, is an Englishwoman in France, where she married in the 1960s. Both her sons have Muslim wives, so she has more personal insight than I have.
She says: “The present veils of the hijab type are not traditional veils to most Muslims in France, even less so the full veils.
“Most Arab women here do not approve of this tradition. They see it as an insult to their human rights.
“Fundamentalist Muslim groups have gained in importance in France as elsewhere, although they are still only a minority.
“They have influenced young Arab men here who are frustrated by lack of work and the lack of consideration they perceive. These young men are obliging the women in their families and in their neighbourhoods to cover their hair.
“We see the veil as an instrument of oppression rather than a ‘custom’ or a religious prerogative.”
Like Suzanne, I worry that a rise in religious fanaticism is hampering efforts in many countries to break down barriers between people.
But is the girl in Chris Lamprianidis’s excellent photo a victim of oppression? She looks (as far as one can see) fairly happy and free.
But if dressing as she does is her choice, is she inadvertently guilty of assisting in the repression of other women?
In a similar way, perhaps, to that in which some women choose to engage in pornography or take part in suggestive pop videos.
They might not consider themselves to be exploited. But are they contributing to a general exploitative attitude towards women?
To liken a girl with everything covered but her eyes and hands to a Lady Gaga or a top-shelf model might seem far-fetched.
But they are really more alike than you or they might suppose.
Now, isn’t that ironic?


FIRST the good news. Proposed massive changes in BBC budgeting include a £25million boost to BBC Two, which will be allowed to move back upmarket.
And even more good news. This will be funded by a 25 per cent reduction in the Beeb’s £100m budget for buying in foreign (i.e. American) shows.
The justification for paying out our licence money to commercial US corporations has always been weak. With plenty of commercial channels in that market, I’d be happy with a 100pc cut in that part of the BBC budget.
Especially if it meant more investment here.
Not in paying celebrity wages to a handful of supposed “talents”. But in reversing the trend for dumbing down documentaries to suit an audience with the attention span of a goldfish and the intellect of a Big Brother contestant.
And in giving proper promotion and a non-digital wavelength to 6 Music – an important outlet for new and innovative bands and almost the only ad-free station where you can hear non-classical music for grown-ups.
Ah, there’s the bad news. Along with the Asian Network, BBC Switch and Blast!, 6 Music is facing the axe.

No comments: