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The Veil, revisited

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In today’s The Independent, under the headline ‘Wear a veil or we will behead you,’ radicals tell TV women, I read:

All 15 women presenters reported for work at the official Palestine Television station in Gaza yesterday, in defiance of death threats by a radical Islamic group that is believed to have links with al-Qa’ida. The Righteous Swords of Islam warned that it would strike the women with “an iron fist and swords” for refusing to wear a veil on camera.

“It is disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms,” it said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza at the weekend. “We will destroy their homes. We will blow up their work places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements.”

The fringe group threatened to “slaughter” the women for corrupting Palestinian morals. “The management and workers at Palestine TV should know,” it warned, “that we are much closer to them than they think. If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people.”

Whao! hold it there a second … let’s see if I’ve got this straight. To be unveiled on camera is immoral; to stalk with malicious intent, destroy homes, blow up work places, behead and slaughter, on the other hand, serves to “preserve the … morals of our people”. Uhm … I’m having some difficulties thinking that one through at the moment.

This is, of course, an absolutely fascinating illustration of alternative ‘knowledge systems’ and their relation to rationality. I shall be writing more on this … once I have time in what is, this week, a hectically busy schedule. In the meantime, a couple of brief but interesting observations:

  • how tempting, and hence how easy, it is to extrapolate from the particular (the Righteous Swords of Islam group) to the general (all Muslims share such beliefs; or, such beliefs are endemic to Islam). I bet you did, didn’t you? Yet when Christian “pro-lifers”, for example, bomb abortion clinics, causing loss of life, we are likely to view such acts as at the wacko margins of our moral spectrum rather than as evidence of something rotten at the core of Christianity. We possibly do not (yet should) reflect on the irony of the murder of medical staff as ‘pro-life’.
  • how tempting, and hence how easy, it is to “other” the Other; to assume that we are rational, they are irrational; that our moral codes, albeit with perhaps some flaky edges, are overall pretty moral, theirs pretty wacky, alien, off-the-wall. But then this is because we can see (though we’re probably unconscious of our seeing) our own moral judgments within a context, a framework wrought incrementally out of a lifetime of often casual experiences, dictums, credo, conversations, that make some kind of sense of them. Our wackos are not quite as “other” as theirs.

Interesting then, that ProLifeBlogs.com (and I pulled out this one pretty much at random from a Google search) should be horrified by a “new group of insane death-cult practitioners” who “issued a death threat over the weekend against women working for the official Palestinian Authority television station” while resolutely refusing to condemn those who issue death threats against women attending, or working within, abortion clinics.

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