Forget the Footnotes

State power unveiled

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I wanted to blog about Aishah Azmi, the classroom assistant in Dewsbury, UK, who was ordered to remove her veil in the classroom by the head of her school. But I find it curiously painful to write about. Once Tony Blair got involved, and the courts, it got too ugly.

I think about the classroom assistants in my children’s school in London — miss Muna and miss Saida — and how beautiful they looked in their hijabs. How their way of dressing affirmed their identity as proud, capable and professional women and as great role-models for the many Muslim children in the class. To force them to take off their dress would have been to denude them — to strip them of their identities.

Aishah Azmi’s crime was to cover her face, in accordance with Muslim custom, in the presence of male grown-ups. When children and women were around she was not covered. But why do women have an obligation to reveal themselves on men’s terms? Why do they always have to make themselves available to men?

For an immigrant it is a major statement when you take off the clothes of your homeland and put on the clothes of your new country. But it is equally significant when you refuse to make the switch. Wearing traditional clothes is to make the statement: “my past matters,” “I came from somewhere, you know,” “I was someone before I was turned into this ‘foreigner’ who you despise.”

Since the choice of clothing is crucial for our sense of who we are, it must be left up to each individual. A state which strips its people by force is repressive.


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