Saturday, June 27, 2009

For God's Sake, Lift Thy Veil

Multiculturalism is a funny word. It means many things to many people. Most people are insensitive to the plurality phenomenon that multiculturalism seeks to represent. Yet, they mouth it with the reverence and ardour of the newly converted. And in their eagerness to embrace every multicultural, multiethnic expression, they even vote for universal acceptance of a burqa or a hijaab. They argue that a tolerant society cannot afford to be choosy or selective. Almost by a sleight of hand and by a strange twist of the illogical, the burqa magically asserts its right to co-exist in a tolerant, liberal society.
The fact that the burqa, by its very definition, questions gender equality and tries to make a lesser mortal of a woman are conveniently forgotten. Also, the fact that the burqa symbolises the centuries-old right of the male to sexually dominate a woman is carefully erased from the grotesquely simplified argument. The hijaab, the ghunghat are hideous inventions of men who have hunted the female of their species. Multiculturalism doesn’t necessarily grant the licence to absorb and assimilate rotting symbols and practices that have long lost their shelf-life in the medieval era. It is ridiculous that even women who wear the hijaab are joining the veil debate and are emphasizing the right to express themselves about their choice of clothing.
Nobody wants the state to enforce a dress code. The French President is the last person to do so. It’s preposterous to view him as a xenophobe. The French do guard their language with a near-xenophobic zeal but when it comes to propagating rational virtues, the French mind is wider than the Pacific Ocean. Let’s forget about the Sarcozy prescription momentarily and ask ourselves why we are forgetting the basic premise of this debate; that the burqa would not have been born without a dress code. Concealing your face is against nature. No creature does so. Except possibly the turtle which has to seek refuge in its shell when faced with a threat to its life.
Simply put, the hijaab is not a multicultural asset. Along with the ghunghat, these represent the life-force of a form of tyranny that refuses to die and continues to give the Taliban its raison d’etre; even its sustenance.
I think the only serious flaw in Nicholas Sarkozy’s argument is that he uses the word homogeneity without explaining its contours. Interesting, though, that France is again showing the way to a new intellectual destination where plurality needs to be respected beyond mere appearances and superficial exterior. Conversations and dialogues in the 21st century often fail to take place between those who are clean shaven out of individual choice and those who wear their beards because their religions command them to do so. The 21st century is the battleground of personal versus collective religions. We can’t allow megaliths born out of soulless, collective religions to trample upon individual rights and prevail upon the right to decide alone, in one’s own sacred privacy.
I adore Sikhism. I think the Sikh religion provides the perfect platform to imbibe the finest of human values. The Sikhs are the privileged because they owe their allegiance to a religion that propagates the existence of a community-support system. But then Sikhism with all its dimensions cannot be defined or restricted by issues concerning the Sikh’s appearance. The religion is far bigger than that. In fact, the inner happiness of the average Sikh is a mirror to the cleanliness and purity that thrive in his religion. At the same time, younger Sikhs are quietly and gradually giving up some of their religious duties like sporting long hair or moving around with the kirpan. Now that they have comprehended the inner essence of their religion, their parents are not thinking it prudent to chastise and reprimand them. Sikh religion will not just survive but will also prosper even more without the external symbols.
In Turkey, a confluence of cultures with a Muslim majority, wearing a fez in a public place is a choice which is forbidden by the law and not even socially appreciated. It only goes to show that sporting your obvious identity immediately enforces restrictions and prevents a free dialogue. Nobody is insisting on what to wear but one would appreciate if citizens chose not to opt out of a possible conversation and free mingling by emphasizing one’s faith and thereby limiting the boundaries of that limitless exchange of thought.
The 21st century is expected to be one of dialogue among religions and among ethnic groups. Before that happens, we cannot put barriers and assert our right to silence by covering our face. For God’s sake, take thy veil off and let’s discuss if our civilizations can thrive under the same sky.