Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Burqa Way of Life...

If like me you think the wearers of niqabs, hijabs and burqas make the Lone Ranger look modestly under-dressed, you'll be gritting your teeth in irritation as the nation once again goes through yet another bout of soul-searching over Islamic religious/cultural issues.

Islamophobia generated by the boogeymen of the English Defence League had nothing to do with this one. It was the veiled Muslim woman in the London court, on trial for embezzlement, who made it a point of issue by declaring that she would not remove her veil for religious reasons.

Coincidentally young Muslim female students at a Birmingham college set their (veiled) faces against a decree that face coverings would not be allowed on campus. They got the college authorities to take a step back on that by resorting to social media protests and a threatened demonstration.

The prevalence of this mode of dress on the streets of Bradford has antagonised me. I've long suspected it was supposed to do just that. I daresay others have too though they are reluctant to say so publicly for obvious reasons in this increasingly PC country in which police officers are liable to get arsey with anyone who describes a criminal suspect as Asian-looking or Muslim.

The last novel of my friend David Tipton, the publisher and writer who died last November, was called Black Ghosts. I only ever saw a hand-written manuscript first draft. Tipton said the title was inspired by the sight of Muslim women swathed in black burqas in and around the area of inner-city Bradford where he lived.

Tipton, a well-travelled libertarian who seemed to get on well with his immediate Muslim neighbours, objected to the message embodied in the veil and other obsidian habilments: that as a man he was a potential violator of women of the book and must not be tempted by their physical attributes - hair, eyes, lips and all the rest. When we came to Bradford, separately, in the Seventies Muslim women who wanted to look Asian tended to wear colourful saris.

As far as I am aware there is no prescription in Koranic law for women to wear any of the above-mentioned items, merely an injunction to dress modestly and appropriately according to the climate of the country where they live. The passing of the sari for the tent-like burqa has been retrograde.

As it happens I prefer people - not just women - to dress modestly rather than garishly or sluttishly. I'm not talking about the stage costumes of Rock stars, actors or performance artists. The line between personal expressiveness and flagrant exhibitionism is drawn by taste or the lack of it. Inherent human qualities should not be reduced to the external fads of transient fashion.

Some Muslim women in Bradford go about in hijabs, elaborate scarves wound about their hair and neck. These arrangements are curious - the women seem to have big hats or bonnets over their hair. I rather like them.

Historically, of course, my generation and others further back grew up with head-scarves. Little films made in northern cities in the early years of the 20th century show men in caps, ladies in hats and factory girls in shawls and scarves. The latter covered the top of the head and were loosely tied under the chin; or they were tucked up round the top of the head like a pie crust.

In public the tradition has always been for the face to be visible, for we believe the face defines the lineaments of character. Instinctively we distrust those who obscure their face in public with a hood, a mask, a helmet or a scarf. It is a tradition that should be respected rather than eroded.

The top and bottom of the whole business about veils, for me, is that I'm fed up with the attempts by an alien culture since the 1980s to impose its values on this country. So it's okay if they don't speak English or if some of their young men drive without tax and insurance, or if they marry their first cousins and expect society to pick up the social and medical costs of special treatment for the idiocy these marriages frequently breed. Burning Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses was okay in 1989, sharia courts are okay too in the twenty-first century.

If I've become intolerant in my old age it's not because Right-wing racists have won my support. I attribute it to the changes this country has gone through demographically especially over the last seven or eight years. Everything changes otherwise it dies, atrophies, I know that; but these changes were imposed from above, by the European Union and by the last Labour Government; they did not come about from generational evolution. So now, often, I feel a stranger in my own country. Worse, I think I am being made to feel like that.

Xenophobia? Perhaps. Prejudice? Yes and no. At the best of times, as my family and friends would testify, I dislike the encroachment of prattling humanity on my little bit of breathing space. I like to listen to sound of my own thoughts - not the incessant jabbering of somebody else on a mobile phone in a bus or a train. I can't walk through central Bradford without some invasive chugger standing in my path ostensibly for the good of a cause.The increasing propensity of public figures to misuse words such as "iconic", "vibrant", "diversity" fratches my fellow feeling. The Old Adam in me flares up and, like the exasperated television journalist played by Peter Finch in the film Network, the desire to shout "I'm not going to take this any more!" swells my soul like a sail.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

George Sanders - Biography (SD)

I stumbled upon this poinant tribute to George Sanders late last night after looking at some 1960s films of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton scoring marvellous goals for Manchester United.

I found it deeply touching, bound up with the past and its passing. The mood created by the soundtrack, a song called I Remember, and the black and white imagery, makes this a memorable ten minutes.

I didn't know George Sanders killed himself in Barcelona in 1972. Nor did I know that he was born in St Petersburg before the Russian Revolution, went to college in Manchester and later worked in Buenos Aires. I only knew he starred in (at least) two great films: The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) and All About Eve (1950).

Thank you to whoever put this out.