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Multi-culturalism - John C. Kirk — LiveJournal

Oct. 11th, 2006

12:55 am - Multi-culturalism

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Date:October 11th, 2006 10:56 am (UTC)
Just in case you're interested, it seems that Gordon Brown is backing Jack Straw in this (look at the "update" at the end).

Interestingly, he's focusing not on practicality (as you are), but on "Britishness". This is the reason that my first reaction about Straw's comments were more negative than yours.

Practically, I agree - it's harder to communicate with someone who's face you can't see. But for the most part I think that the losers in that scenario are the folk that are hiding their faces. So, I think that the way to deal with it is to gently ensure awareness of that disadvantage and allow them to make their own decision. Now, Straw went to great pains to emphasize that he was trying to be as gentle as possible - which is great. And if he's got hearing issues, that makes it all the more understandable. Having said that, I think it's important to remember how intimidating a polite request from a powerful person can be. As a westerner, trying to understand the feelings of all the people involved, the best I can come up with is to try to translate the taboo into a western one. This isn't ideal because the taboo I'm thinking of is one that we've come to enjoy laughing at in recent times, but bear with me:

There are countless comedies that show the hero (an authority figure - Inspector Clouseau for example) having to strip in order to enter a nudist colony. The request is always polite and rational, but the hero feels powerless to refuse despite his obvious discomfort. The comedy comes from the fact that the hero is the most powerful figure there - the authority figure - brought down closer to the level of the people he has power over. It wouldn't be nearly so funny if he were the least powerful person in the room, come to ask for the help of someone important.

I figure that if I really believed that modesty required the covering of my face, then this scenario might be close to what it would feel like being asked - politely - by a powerful person who's help I came to ask for - to take off the veil.

So, it's difficult. I do think that folk wearing veils are at a disadvantage, but I also think that you can only lead a horse to water (as it were). Security concerns (the reason you take your bike helmet off at petrol stations) are yet another thing - and so far as I'm aware, haven't been mentioned by any politicians in this debate.

And even disregarding all of the above, I'm afraid I tend to bristle whenever anyone mentions "Britishness". We're an island of immigrants, and we have been for all of recorded history - randomly choosing to freeze the culture now seems ludicrous, and doomed to failure.

(of course I may be doing Gordon a disservice - it's possible that this is precisely what he means by "Britishness" - we'll have to wait for future speeches to find out)
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