Veiled women, free countries

Another disturbing piece by Theodore Dalrymple in the City Journal site.  Darlymple excoriates, with typical flair, the decision of a British judge to allow a young Muslim woman to wear an extreme version of the veil to school, in violation of a pretty tolerant dress code.  The young woman’s brother belongs to a radical Islamic party, which means two things.  First, the individual rights which determined the outcome of the case are abominated by the winners.  Second, the woman is unlikely to have been the prime mover in her own case:  in Britain, women in strict Muslim families live in a sort of totalitarianism, according to Dalrymple.

Regardless of whether Shabina Begum acted in this case without duress and of her own free will, which seems to me highly unlikely given that the traditional place of Muslim women is not the public spotlight, the fact is that substantial numbers of young Muslim women are virtually enslaved in Britain; they grow up in what can only be called a totalitarian environment. I know this from what my patients have told me. They are not allowed out of the house except under escort, and sometimes not even then; they are allowed no mail or use of the telephone; they are not allowed to contradict a male member of the household, and are automatically subject to his wishes; it is regarded as quite legitimate to beat them if they disobey in the slightest. Their brothers are often quite willing to attack anyone who speaks to the women in any informal context. They are forced to wear modes of dress that they do not wish to wear. Their schooling is quite often deliberately interrupted, so that they are not infected by Western ideas of personal liberty; ambitious for a career, they are kept at home as prisoners and domestic slaves.

Most disturbing aspect of the case is that Cherie Blair, the prime minister’s wife, represented the young woman who wished to be protected from human contact.  Dalrymple suspects sleazy electoral politics as the motive; I don’t know enough about Cherie Blair, or British politics, to say one way or another.  But it wouldn’t be the first time that the unconquerable simple-mindedness of well-meaning people led them to defend principles and people that are at war with everything they espouse.

It’s instructive to compare this woman, appealing to the courts of a free country to retain her chains, with the Indonesia maidservant in Ras Al Khaima, who having slipped her chains in a moment of human weakness, has now been sentenced by a different court to 150 lashes.  One sentence is far more brutal that the other; which is more unjust, I find it difficult to say.



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