Sunday, April 17, 2016

God's wardrobe

A French film about the Iranian Women's movement, with subtitles

One of 'The Big Questions' on BBC1 this morning was "Does God care what you wear?" Since the gods that most people know about are the invention of petty tyrants, it depends on how much you care about their rules. If there was a god, it's likely to be completely indifferent to what you or I wear. If it exists, it has the whole universe to play around with. Why bother with your wardrobe, when there are gas clouds and galaxies to fiddle with? Imagining that each habitable planet has its own set of gods, laying down their own sets of rules about human behaviour, is plain daft. But then, religion is daft.

The focus of the discussion was mainly about Islamic forms of dress for women, inevitably, as the veil is such a contentious issue. 
The veil has always been a symbol of male control over women. In 13th century Assyria, only noblewomen were permitted to wear it; common women and prostitutes were not. In Islam and Christianity, its use signified modesty, piety and "good" behaviour; in other words, behaviour that didn't threaten male dominance. Yet now, in the UK, where you can wear whatever you want, foolish Muslim women choose to wear the veil, claiming that it demonstrates their commitment to their religion.

Islamic dress is all about the Awrah, or the parts of the body that are meant to be hidden from the opposite sex. Normal, natural relationships between men and women are discouraged by an obsessive preoccupation with sex and "modesty". Not that Islam is unique in this respect; fundamental Christianity is just as bad, getting itself tied in all sorts of knots over the imposition of repressive values and its attitude to abortion, homosexuality, and sexual humour, among other things. In some parts of the country, where immigrant imams from illiberal cultures like Pakistan are a powerful influence over predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, the veil is seen everywhere, while the men advertise their religious identity by wearing a long tunic over loose trousers with a full beard and a prayer cap. All of this demonstrates that the wearers place their religious identity above integration within British society; they choose to be different, to remain within their own communities, living as though they were in a little piece of whatever culture they came from, while rejecting the liberal values of the host nation. From the ICM poll conducted among Muslim communities for Channel 4 recently, it seems that people from these communities regard British society as corrupt and immoral. Which prompts the question, why stay?

Other BBCTBQ guests were wearing fancy dress that indicated their religious identities; a Buddhist monk and a couple of turbaned Sikhs. I tend to regard anyone who goes around voluntarily wearing some form of religious uniform, from a clunky crucifix to the hijab and niqab, as showing off, or advertising. "Look at me," they seem to be saying, "I'm a good person because of my religion." Not so. Goodness is about how we behave and shouldn't have to be advertised. Modesty should be about not boasting that we're trying to be good, or that we've done good things, not about sex. The Oxford dictionary defines modesty as the quality or state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities, such as "with typical modesty he insisted on sharing the credit with others."

We don't all have to wear the same sort of clothes. We can express our personalities and interests by our form of dress, some more creatively than others. Men in suits are boring and conforming to convention. They need liberating too. Express yourselves, even if it's only by wearing fancy underwear! People have died to be free to do so. They still do.

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