Letter-writers round on Ridley

Last week Yvonne Ridley wrote an article in the Observer about the hostile reaction her headscarf has caused when going about her business in London, including jibes about bombs and “Chechen black widows”, and cab drivers refusing to carry her. (I was wondering why she didn’t do what a disabled writer did a few years ago in the Observer, and publish their registration numbers.)

As so often happens when someone defends the right of a Muslim to go about their business unmolested, her article has been attacked by a number of ill-informed letter writers. My normal reaction when this happens is to do a Google search for the writers concerned. Very often, as with Will Cummins, it turns out that the writer’s entire contribution to world literature consists of attacks on Islam and Muslims. Randhir Singh Bains also has a long history of anti-Muslim letters.

This turned out not to be the case here. Of the four writers (Nick Alexander of London SE22, Tanya Tier of Worthing, Victoria Dutchman-Smith of Oxford, A Adler of London SW17 and David Thompson of Ranmoor in Sheffield), I was unable to find anything with certainty on “A Adler” and David Thompson. There are, no doubt, quite a few people by these names. The only Nick Alexander I could find in London SE22 is a “contact” for a primary school in that area.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith yielded better results. She is listed by the University of Cambridge as a research student studying “Alcohol and intoxication in the life and works of E. T. A. Hoffmann”, and her name has appeared on articles in “the f-word”; one, published Sept 2004, concerns the controversy over women drinking, particularly to excess, as is known of in certain British cities:

Now, call me a crazy radical, but I believe that feminism, amongst other things, was about the right of women to behave as wickedly (or as virtuously) as men. It’s what we call equality, and it’s non-negotiable. The rewarding of equal rights is not conditional upon such rights being used responsibly. All-round benefit is not the standard, nor should it be. Equality is an absolute good in its own right. Feminism has allowed women to have more money of their own, to spend it on whatever they like, and to socialise outside the home without the need to be ladylike at all times. Feminism has allowed women to adopt what were once typically male vices, but the problem is not with feminism – it is with the prevailing standards for how liberated people should behave, regardless of gender.

Another, published March 2004, argues that marriage is “a patriarchal, homophobic institution, and always will be”. She deals flippantly about whose name the children should take:

In a few years time I hope to become a pro-choice, unmarried, too-posh-to-push mother. My partner and I have never had any problems deciding whose surname our children should use. Since mine’s a double-barrel already, a triple is out of the question, and since my partner’s name is nondescriptly crap anyhow, they’re having mine. It’s more unusual, posh beyond our means and the resultant bullying at school will only serve to make them stronger. More seriously, my family name would die out otherwise, and I tend to place sentimental family ties above meaningless patriarchal practices, old traditionalist that I am.

Never mind the fact that marriages tend to be more stable than cohabitations; a cohabitation can simply be walked out of at any time, by either party. Thus a woman can (and regularly does!) end up with several children, perhaps all by different fathers. How does this benefit anyone? As usual, the chattering classes think they can “invent their own morality”, which fails to work for anyone outside their circle.

Oh, and there’s this letter in the Observer, that we should just get on and make abortion “fully legal”.

Enough of this woman’s ramblings. Let’s get on and debunk these ill-informed letters. Nick Alexander claims that

No Muslim woman today has to wear even a headscarf (the last vestige of the chador), particularly in a free society where women have been fighting for so long not to have dress as men choose.

Oppressed Muslim women have been fighting to be allowed to walk around bare-headed and it seems a retrograde step to voluntarily put the clock back.

Well, why on earth shouldn’t a woman wear a headscarf - after all, in many countries women are actually forbidden from wearing headscarves, at least if they want an education or employment. Where on earth are women fighting to not have to cover their heads, and not fighting against honour killings, female genital mutilations, forced marriages and so on (and not just among Muslims)? It’s happened that some “westernised” Arab women don’t like it when a religious government makes it the law for women to wear hijab in public, but then not everyone likes the law in this country either. Where the dress code is a problem, it’s mostly to do with enforced face veiling. Still, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to the real difficulties some women face.

Tanya Tier, in Worthing, claims that “among the Muslim women I grew up with in the Middle East, wearing the hijab was seen as a matter of choice or a tribal/cultural adornment. Let’s not forget that this ‘cult’ of the hijab is relatively recent and should not be perceived as a religious necessity”. She doesn’t mention the Middle Eastern country she grew up in, and I’ve been unable to find which by searching Google, although I’ve been able to ascertain that she’s been associated with various left-wing campaigns. But the hijab is not a recent invention or a tribal adornment, and nobody who has looked in the Qur’an or studied the hadeeth comes to a conclusion other than that it is religiously mandated. It is not a “symbol” or identity badge, but a religious obligation.

Dutchman-Smith touches on Ridley’s “public statement”, which suggests that Ridley herself is under the false impression that I earlier alluded to. “To argue that the clothes you wear have a specific meaning in society, and that anyone who does not approve of this meaning has to pretend it does not exist, is self-centred,” she opines; but nobody says they are forbidden from having an opinion, just that they should mind their own business. Why is it so difficult for some people to just mind their own business and keep their opinions to themselves, and not to molest other people they don’t like the look of? If you don’t like what you see, just be thankful you can see at all. And no, it’s not about women being “second class citizens” - how on earth does serial cohabitation and the undignified clothing which is being pushed at women today, to the extent that feminine clothing which was popular even in the 1980s and 1990s is no longer even widely available, raise the status of women? The answer is, it just doesn’t. It offers wider angles for exploitation. It’s a proven fact that women can wear hijab and still be scholars and businesswomen, not just housewives.

A Adler alleges that the hijab represents “an alien doctrine that treats women as enshrouded, segregated second-class citizens. One that requires abasement five times a day”. The abasement he mentions is before God, not before man, which to any Muslim makes absolute sense. Women don’t have to prostrate before men; we all have to prostrate before Almighty Allah. “To make such proclamations of adherence to a creed so at odds with prevailing secular attitudes can only be provocative.” Again, only to people with a pathological inability to mind their own business.

Finally, we get to David Thompson who alleges that “perhaps Ridley should consider the possibility that some of those ‘glaring passengers’ might have lost relatives to the terrorist organisations whose fashion sense she shares”. Then again, perhaps (in fact, most likely) they haven’t. But then, does losing a relative to an Afro-Carribean street mugger give anyone the right to attack black people in the street? No, of course, it doesn’t.

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