Head-dress hang-ups

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
When Huw Thomas says one day people will ask why there was ever a debate about Aisha Azmi and her desire to wear the full veil in the classroom (TES, October 27), he reveals a lack of understanding about the importance of clothing - in any culture or at any time in recorded history.

I think he is optimistic and naive to believe there will ever be a time when what we wear won't matter to either ourselves or others. Politicians may have been seeking publicity in raising the issue of the niqab (full veil), but I too find dealing with those who wear it "uncomfortable" and "separating", and I have been glad of the debate to help me process my thoughts.

For me, rather like the extremely provocative in-your-face semi-nudity of some of our Western fashion culture, the niqab is also a form of extremist dress. Both are unacceptable to me because they draw sharp attention to either sexuality or religion, both of which are provocative in their own way.

I am offended by some of the overtly sexual clothing worn as fashion by young women who often don't realise how provocative they are being, or at what risk they may be putting themselves. Equally, I am offended by a woman who shuts herself and her identity off from me by covering up so completely that I can't see who she is, or worse, as though I were a threat.

This may not be how the Muslim woman in niqab sees her clothing but it is how I see it. I perceive both these forms of clothing as unhealthy for women. They are backward steps in the long and difficult journey from patriarchy and sexual servitude.

As teachers we should respect and understand cultural and religious differences, but not accept unquestioningly all the extremist tendencies of any fashion culture or religious dogma. Such extreme liberalism will be self-defeating in the end.

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