An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week by Andy Ngo entitled “A Visit to Islamic England“. It caused a storm on Twitter because it was massively Islamophobic.
In the last few weeks I have been staying up late at the computer, my phone has been buzzing at all times of the day and night, and I have been reading Qu’ran more than usual.
Burkas have their origins in the Middle East. What to they have a lot of in the Middle East besides oil and war?
And not soft, damp beach sand. Hot, dry desert sand. The kind of sand that can be whipped up into a storm by the slightest breeze.
Sandstorms are painful
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a sandstorm but if you have you will probably have run for cover, shielding you mouth and eyes as you did. Millions of tiny grains crashing into you at high-speed is not a pleasant experience. In an environment where sandstorms are common, covering as much of yourself as possible makes complete sense. Even covering your eyes with a mesh doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Do you know what else they have in abundance in the Middle East?
If I were to venture out into the desert at midday I would burn in minutes. I have weak melanin. Even people with naturally darker skin can’t stay out for long in those temperatures. When people started wearing burkas, Nivea had not yet started making sunscreen and air conditioning was not a thing, so the only way to prevent skin damage and stay cool was to stay out of the sun as much as possible.
Sunburn is not fun and skin cancer is even worse
So maybe wearing a burka or niqab had more to do with protecting women from the harsh desert than from the carnal desires of men?
Certainly there are tribes in the Sahara, like the Tuareg, where men routinely cover their faces as protection from the sun and sand.
Most Muslims, at least that I know, do not think it is a good idea for women to wear the burka or niqab in Britain. Just like everyone else, Muslims communicate with our faces: smiling, frowning, biting our lips, gritting our teeth and a million more micro-expressions that can signal any one of our complex emotions. By covering her face a woman denies others the ability to read these signs and this certainly affects her ability to have a full and active role in modern society. She may not be being oppressed by a man or a religion, but she is choosing to oppress herself.
I support any woman’s right to wear a burka in Britain, but it is not a decision that she should take lightly. Are the advantages, as she sees them, worth the negative consequences?
We had a great time at Manchester Carnival today. The streets were bustling, the music was loud and the costumes were bright. People of all backgrounds were out enjoying the warm, if not sunny weather. Skin was on show and booties were being shaken (is it obvious that I am white). The smell of jerk chicken, curried goat and weed wafted through the air.
As a doctor I am in an extremely privileged position: I get to see people at their most vulnerable. And sometimes my patients see my vulnerabilities too.
I worked for a while at a practice in the area of Manchester that has the highest number recent immigrants of all nationalities. The people may be ethnically diverse, but they are universally poor. The area is one of the most deprived in the country and is home to a large Muslim population. It was rare for me to see a white British patient when I was there, but those I did see were almost all struggling with one sort of addiction or another. It was clear that Muslim patients were struggling too, but at least you could see that they were trying to make a better life for themselves. Children wearing grammar school blazers would come in to translate for their Urdu-speaking parents.
I remember clearly one time when a woman wearing a burka came in to see me because it was rare, even for an area with such a large proportion of Muslims. I immediately began to feel uncomfortable but it wasn’t through fear or embarrassment.
When I see a patient for the first time my eyes start searching for diagnostic clues as soon as they step foot in the door. Even before that I can tell a lot: if it takes a while before I hear a knock, I know that their mobility is poor; if they need me to shout “come in” twice, they might have some hearing difficulty.
My eyes search my patients’ faces and bodies for anything that might help me piece together the diagnostic jigsaw: a clenched fist can indicate pain; a twitch of the mouth can convey unspoken doubt. I watch how they move, how they breath and how they react to my smile. You would be amazed just how much a doctor can learn about you before you even speak. Most of the time they will have formulated a fairly accurate diagnosis within the first 30-seconds of meeting you.
The burka took away all of my usual visual clues. I felt lost and out of control. Was she pleased or worried to see me? Was she in pain? Was she depressed? All I had were her eyes. They were piercing (maybe because they were the only things I could see) but I could not read them.
I took a breath to steady myself and asked her what I could do for her. She told me that she had been having problems with a rash on her face. It might have been obvious that I started thinking about how I was going to go about asking to see it. However, without a pause she unclipped one side of the veil. It was like she had switched on a light and my puzzle fell into place. I could see that she looked sad, and I could also see that she had acne.
It was bad. Large spots on her on her jaw, chin and cheeks – and in places it had left scars. She told me that acne was one of the main reasons that she had started to wear the veil in the first place. Whenever she went out without it people would stare – judging her for something she could do nothing about. At least when she wore the veil she felt some control over what other people saw. It gave her the confidence to go out and interact with others that she otherwise didn’t have.
Before you have an opinion of the burka you need to understand that there are many different reasons why a woman might choose to wear one. And as one of very few white men to have seen beneath it, I can assure you that the only thing under there is a woman, just like any other.
A few weeks ago I went to my local swimming pool for the first time in a long time and I was appalled to see that there were still separate changing rooms for men and women! How can this be allowed Britain today? Continue reading “Gender segregation is everywhere you look in this country – and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing”
If there are two facts about Boris Johnson that are true, one is that he is a clever man and the other is that his only interest is his own self-promotion.
He made headlines yet again this week by refusing to apologise for alleged Islamophobic comments he made in his column in The Telegraph. He is clever because there is nothing in his carefully-written piece that amounts to Islamophobia, even the now-infamous letter boxes and bank robber lines. Continue reading “Boris Johnson is not a British Trump – be careful not to make him into one”