Skip Bandele reflects on life and his world — as he sees it
I THINK I will wear a balaclava the next time I visit my bank – it seems to be my right in today’s liberal climate of tolerance and freedom regarding dress. Just remind me to take off any suggestive religious jewellery. If the staff are sufficiently intimidated by my appearance to voluntarily hand over the swag, fair enough. However, should they attempt to overpower me or call the police I will be just as happy. My lawyers and human right representatives are dying to slap a writ on the faceless institution, hopefully bringing millions in compensation my way.
Don’t worry, I’m only joking. But, on a more serious note, what in the name of Allah, God, or any other deity is going on? It appears that we have come to live in an increasingly divided, if not fragmented, society haunted by menace, fear and prejudice. The ongoing controversy over the wearing of the veil is only one physical manifestation of this gradually escalating attitude of confrontation. Terms such as ‘apartheid’ and ‘McCarthy witch-hunt’ are rearing their ugly heads. They are fuelling a parallel war of words against Islam, subtly complimenting the military conflict waged between the followers of Mohammad and those raising their sword in the name of Christ in the Middle East at the moment.
Certain interpretations of the Koran require Muslim women to cover their modesty to varying degrees. Basically, the strictly faithful can choose between a body-length outer garment that leaves the head, hands and feet free, the Jilbab, a Niqab, which is a veil for the face that leaves only the area around the eyes clear, or the much more disquieting Burqa, an all-concealing garment extending over the entire face and body.
This is a voluntary dress code, unlike the Star of David, which members of the Jewish faith were forced to display prominently on their clothing during the Second World War in Germany and Nazi occupied Europe. Did you know, by the way, that that vilified monstrous regime was actively supported by significant numbers of the populations of the Scandinavian countries, many young men crossing into the Third Reich to fight with the Waffen SS and Wehrmacht? Partly motivated by their opposition to the advancing Bolshevik empire, many were unfortunately also driven by more sinister motives: their shared hatred of the so-called inferior races, a nationalistic Aryan sentiment that persists in the asylum havens of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to this day.
But, I am getting sidetracked. In the good old US, the Ku Klux Klan has enjoyed widespread support since the American Civil War. Its members donning white robes and head coverings, while hanging, crucifying and burning Negroes, whom they regard as sub-human usurpers. Legal segregation of the races was only abolished completely in the 1960s, although I am sure it still exists in some shape or form in many smaller southern towns.
Not long ago “hoodies” were high on the British public agenda. The resulting hysteria led to young people (and presumably older ones too) being banned from shopping centres should they continue to partially hide their features. In horror movies, the ‘baddies’, monsters and monks, who have sold their souls to the devil, are commonly portrayed similarly disguised.
All right, I hear you say, what has all this to do with a veiled Muslim teacher getting the sack, the suspension of an equally attired hospital assistant, or indeed the catalyst of the current “crisis”, Home Secretary, Jack Straw? On the surface, nothing, but the underlying current of human emotion, the cause-effect, are the same in all the above cases; namely, as I have already pointed out at the beginning of this piece, menace, fear and prejudice. People are instinctively afraid of the ‘unknown’, the ‘different’, the ‘unaccustomed’. We feel uncomfortable and threatened in the presence of something or someone we cannot see. These are primeval forces at work, and quite understandably so.
As the current uproar specifically concerns women, not men, let me say that the first feature I look at when I meet a girl is her face. Under the present circumstances, I quite obviously would have no chance of becoming closer acquainted with a nice Muslim girl. Given that face-to-face contact is a prerequisite in our western society, that people who disguise their features provoke instant mistrust if not alarm, thus making the wearing of veils in public unacceptable, let me briefly elaborate upon the wider implications of the issue.
An important socio-political work, entitled The Melting Pot is mandatory reading for all students of the evolution of modern American society. One great virtue of the US is that all races and cultures, which have chosen to live there, actually become Americans (there you are, I have said something positive about Bush-land).
There are, of course, an infinite number of social and economic ghettos, but the overriding principle in the last instance is that of one nation, one peoples. In Britain, a similar feeling of national identity was eventually achieved with West Indian and Asian migrants, who arrived in search of a better life over the past 60 years. But then – hey, presto – we are suddenly faced (excuse the pun) with the advent of Muslim cultural and religious militancy that has no intention to either integrate or conform.
Chasms open. That girl in the veil will never meet me. The insistence by foreign minorities to uphold the physical manifestations of their religious beliefs, their refusal to adapt to the way of life of their chosen home, can only be likened to lighting the fuse of an explosion waiting to happen. Here, there will be no melting down of barriers; instead the fires of hate, fear and prejudice, intricately interwoven, are stoked remorselessly.
Somewhere along the line, ‘policy’ fell by the wayside and common sense was sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.
When we ‘Westerners’ go to live abroad, we quite naturally observe the customs and laws of our host country. I would not dream of running down Teheran’s main street clad in a bikini (well, I wouldn’t wear one anyway), get publicly drunk in Riyadh, or drag a huge silver cross through Baghdad. By the same token, others, travelling in the opposite direction, can be expected to conduct themselves likewise.
One last word about my favourite Yanks. Having more or less defused the religious issues in this cursory discourse, our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are doing their best to fight fire with fire. America is in the throws of witnessing the growing rise of “Jesus Camps”. No, these are not rural Christian gatherings praying for world peace to the strains of John Lennon’s Imagine, but militant evangelical brainwashing sessions for seven to 12-year-olds. I’m not kidding. Seen as a backlash to Muslim-led global terrorism, this small town America craze has seen attendance soar by 70 per cent. Children in a trance-like state, arms aloft, “speak in tongues”, while crying and chanting. Often daubed with camouflage paint, they are urged to pray over a cardboard cut-out of George W Bush.
Pastor Becky Fisher, leader of the Kidsinministry group, which runs the camps, teaches the young fanatics to prepare for war. “This is a sick world”, she tells them: “Kids, you got to change things. This means war. Are you part of it?”
Former Talking Heads rock star, David Byrne, likens the camps to Islamic ‘Madrasas’ – training schools for terrorists. He says: “These are the Christian version of the ‘Madrasas’. So both sides are pretty much equally sick.”
God, Allah help us all – and our children. I’m going to paint a big A on my raincoat: “A” for agnostic.