Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Veiled Habits

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's blog, I found this interesting article by Karen Armstrong comparing Jack Straw's criticisms of his veiled constituents in supposedly multi-cultural Britain to the Victorians reaction to habit-wearing Catholic nuns. Now, on many issues, I'm inclined to agree with Sullivan but on the issue of the Muslim veil he seems to be standing on rather shaky ground. He writes:

In a free country, I absolutely defend the right of any woman to freely choose to wear the chador, wherever she wants. But no-one is proposing banning it. And in public schools, where people have to teach students, I can see a reason to restrict it, because it is an impediment to doing your job. Facial expression matters in teaching. So does a clear voice.

Where is the evidence to show that veiled teachers are less effective than unveiled ones? Or is it an intuitive judgement that Sullivan makes? In that case, how is he different from Jack Straw and the others who see veiling as an affront to Western cultural sensitivities? In fact, in this case, I think Sullivan has become significantly worse. At least Straw and his gang haven't sought to couch their objections is pseudo-scientific proclamations.

When I was in secondary school, my maths teacher was a sari-clad Indian beau. During her lessons, the sari would ride up giving us a tantalizing glimpse of her magnificient midriff. Now, at such moments, I can guarantee that my fellow students (it was a boys school) were interested neither in her facial expressions nor her clear voice. By that score, I guess Sullivan would also be for the banning of saris in classrooms. And while we're at it, why not get rid of all beautiful teachers? Classroom crushes can be such a distraction after all!

No comments: