I’ve been ill today and tried not to be out and about so I’ve had plenty of time to read and reflect. I came across this article in today’s Times and it’s stayed with me all day. I’m not sure if this link will work, especially for those who don’t subscribe to the Times, but essentially it’s an interview with a defector from ISIS who was one of the enforcers of the code of behaviour for women, which included wearing black with no ornamentation and not being seen or heard in public.
On Twitter I came across a Dutch article, where children witnessing the war in Syria had drawn scenes from their recent lives. Most depicted bloodthirsty themes of ISIS, Daesh, ISIL, whatever you want to call them, fighters all dressed in black.
And then there was that dreadful video of the HSBC employees, dressed in black, mocking up an ISIS murder.
You’ve seen the posts from me describing the scenes at Dubai airport, where the colourful clothes of travellers to and from their tropical holidays contrast sharply with the monochrome of the locals, white for men and black for women. And I have seen an increasing amount of all black Niqab and Burqa in India and in Europe in recent years. Always black for women. I think it’s a pity. Covering up in black means melting into the shadows, so that you’re less visible, less audible, more easily ignored. Which is, I think, what extremists and fundamentalists want.
Black can, of course, mean the opposite for Muslim women against the foil of colourful, revealing, Western clothes. Covering up can be a liberation from the fat shaming, image conscious obsessions of women (and men) in the West. I have talked to many women for whom wearing a veil, though not necessarily a full body veil, is an outward expression of their faith, a sort of rejoicing in their identity.
My mum, here in the UK for over 50 years never wore anything other than a sari except when she was in her nurse’s uniform at work. She felt comfortable that way and sharply castigated anyone who tried to make her change. In fact she was often quite derisive about her Indian friends who wore hapless blouses and Western style trousers that “showed off their large bottoms” (The Marathi term she used for bottom is quite derogatory and doesn’t really translate as bottom.)
I don’t think it is the right of anyone to tell someone else what they can or can’t wear. Except in certain cases like national security, I suppose, or in Court or if someone has to be in close proximity in a caring job like teaching, for instance, where facial expression and body language matter.
I do, however, think it’s a shame that the veil has to be black but then I am struck when returning from India, where colour is king, to Europe, particularly in the winter, that all of our clothes are so drab and dark and dreary. Black would appear to be our uniform too, and we have a choice. Yes, it’s slimming, and it goes with everything and it’s easy, but we, too, are melting into the shadows.
Fine, if that’s what you want but on today of all days, the 10th anniversary of the London Bombings, I would like to say that I shall try and wear something brightly coloured whenever I can because no-one’s going to tell me what to wear and who to be. Today I am wearing a defiantly bright orange T shirt.
And I’ll leave you with this, that made me shed tears today: