Wearing the Niqab? It's not as though they are drinking bear's blood
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upholds a French ban on wearing the Niqab, the Muslim full-face veil. Enforcing cultural homogeneity is wrong and dangerous.
THOSE OF A SENSITIVE DISPOSITION AND THOSE WHO ARE UPSET BY THE SIGHT OF BLOOD SHOULD NOT READ ON
A law, introduced by the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 bans the wearing, in public, of clothing intended to conceal the face. The penalty for doing so can be a 150-euro fine and result in the offender having to undergo citizenship instruction, a chilling idea worthy of the Khmer Rouge.
The ruling by the ECHR is final. There can be no appeal. Now that the ECHR has ruled on this matter it opens the way for other European countries to proceed with their own versions of the ban should they wish to.
A few years ago I was on the Norwegian Russian border researching a travel feature for the Sunday Times when George, a man I was having more than a few drinks with, said “Give me your passport and $400 and I will get a permit and we will go bear hunting in the Kola Peninsula,” or words to that effect.
At the time of this conversation I was unsure which side of the border we were on. I was wonderfully drunk and happily lost, a few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, somewhere in the extreme northeastern corner of Europe.
The Norwegian-Russian border has always been famously permeable even at the height of the Cold War. Cross border trading, socialising and even marriages were and still are commonplace. It is not, however, surprising that the Russian state, elsewhere so heavy handed in controlling its borders, should exhibit such a light touch here, six hundred miles due north of St Petersburg. For the Saami peoples and their reindeer have been ignoring all borders in the region for thousands of years. And the Russians, masters of realpolitik, have always understood that any attempt to regulate the Saami wanderings would be doomed to failure.
I knew I wasn't going to go on a bear hunt. Overcrowding or no, it’s just not in my nature to kill something for sport. For food perhaps, for fun never.
I could see that George was disappointed at my refusal. I tried to explain my "position" by talking about differing national cultures. I meant no disrespect to George and the peoples of the High North, I said, but I was English and we just didn't do that sort of thing.
We carried on drinking, a delicious home distilled Aquavit that was deep yellow, flavoured with pine nuts and which George insisted was 100% proof, a claim I had no reason to disbelieve. Trying to patch-up my friendship with George, I encouraged him to describe the delights of bear hunting, which he did.
I remember smiling and nodding foolishly as his tale unfolded but when he got to the part in his description where the huntsman wrenches the bear’s heart from the chest cavity, holding it aloft to drink the warm blood, a look of horror and frank disbelief must have crossed my soft, hot, sweating, English, face.
George had been provided by the local tourist authority to show me round but he had gone far out of his way to give me a wonderful experience. And he had done this, I was sure, not only out of pride in his country but also because of simple generosity and a feeling of fellowship. And now I saw that I had deeply offended him and I felt ashamed.
Which is why, the following day, we got up so early that I was still drunk and climbed into a flat bed truck to bounce along farm tracks and through forests, in company with others, for hours and hours, while my drunkenness wore off and what proved to be a hangover of millennial proportions wore on until, at last, we found the bear, which had been killing sheep it was said and someone shot it.
When we found the bear, as the titular owner of the "permit," I was offered the rifle. Luckily for me I didn't have to make the choice for my head was exploding and my stomach churning and my refusal required no explanation or apology.
Killing a bear 1 © The Information Daily 2014
Killing a bear 2 © The Information Daily 2014
Killing a bear 3 © The Information Daily 2014
Killing the bear taught me some things about life and not just that the consumption of alcohol in large enough quantities over a sustained period can be life threatening.
I learned that I really don’t like killing wild animals. I don’t want to do it myself. I don’t want to hunt bears or any other wild animal. And I have no desire to drink the blood of an animal I have shot.
And I will defend, to the best of my ability, the rights of others to do just that and sustain their points of cultural difference even if I am revolted by what they do.
I want to live in a world where different cultures can flourish side by side. I don’t want cultural homogeneity; I want cultural variety. I want my children to grow up in a world full of variety so that they can face their own moral choices and make them as best they can. I don’t want my children to curse me for bequeathing them a vanilla world.
The last thing I want is a world formed and run by white, protestant, middle-class, university educated, liberally inclined, book reading, hypocrites which, truth be told, is what I am.
I want a world where some people are wild and markedly different to me. I want a world where some people know exactly what they stand for and if they stand for something I find uncomfortable then I will have to learn to live with it.
So the next time Cameron and Merkle and Hollande and the rest of that woeful crew get together in their cosy cabal to plan how they will win cheap votes by banishing multiculturalism and enforcing assimilation in Europe I will be at the front of the crowd, booing.
The European Court of Human Rights Court judgement recognised that "individuals might not wish to see, in places open to all, practices or attitudes which would fundamentally call into question the possibility of open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, formed an indispensable element of community life within the society in question."
Fine words disguising a wholly indefensible small-minded cultural exclusivity. Not for the first time the French have let themselves down and not for the first time we in England are complicit in their failure. Our children or our children's children will have to apologise one day.
There are times when wearing the Niqab is plainly not appropriate. When answering an accusation in court for example or when nursing someone in a public hospital. We can legislate for these circumstances. But a blanket ban is simply wrong and it is racist. If those who wish to wear the Niqab were pink and blue eyed a ban would never have been suggested.
Banning headscarves at home can all too quickly lead to enforcing one's own choice of headgear abroad. Most of the major European powers have practiced exporting cultural homogeneity to other, “benighted,” countries at some point in the last few hundred years, some within living memory. And the English shires and the French canton are full of sad memorials to the human cost of those adventures.
So, if some small group of people in a foreign country far away want to drink bear's blood for breakfast it’s nobody's business but their own. And if the cold warriors of Russia could see that the only way to deal with their Saami neighbours was to leave well alone surely we can do the same. Vive la différence and thank you George.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.
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