contribution by Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
In a recent episode of Top Gear, with appearances from Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Clarkson responded to a question by his co-presenter about whether there actually is a case for the burka given that driving around drunk in the summer time will lead most men to stare at half-naked women on the streets, a potential driving hazard.
Clarkson then replied: “No, no, no. Honestly, the burka doesn’t work. I was in a cab in Piccadilly the other day when a woman in a full burka crossing the road in front of me tripped over the pavement, went head over heels and up it came, red g-string and stockings. I promise that happened. The taxi driver will back me up on that.”
Surely a statement like this humanises niqab-wearing women, and underlines what many of them have always said about these garments? That while they cover everything but their eyes and hands in public to please their Lord, underneath the burka they can wear whatever they jolly well like.
There is a worryingly high number of people who think that Muslim women continue wearing niqabs – and hijabs – in front of their families at home. Some headscarf-wearing friends of mine have actually been asked, “Do you wear it while you sleep?”
While serious discussions should take place within Muslim communities regarding the theological basis of face-veiling, there is no reason why these issues should not be broached using gentle humour too. Comedy has always been the best way to diffuse tension and awkwardness, and amidst all the serious opinion pieces on the burka (plus awkward silences from well-meaning bureaucrats or over-the-top reactions from various politicians), there should be a space for light-hearted remarks like Clarkson’s.
What is genuinely alarming is the fact that public servants like Philip Hollobone MP are refusing to see niqab-wearing women in their surgeries, when we all know that writing a letter to one’s MP – in real terms – is not as effective as paying them a visit. The Clarkson incident has merely highlighted the need for feminists – including Muslim ones – to choose our battles wisely instead of getting caught up in trivialities.
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Filed in: British Identity,Religion