Sunday, October 15, 2006

Behind the Mask

No matter how artistic, there remains something sinister about a mask.

A Venetian Mask.

There are some politicians that always manage to come across as intelligent and genuine. Jack Straw, the former UK Foreign Secretary falls man this number. There was an air of considered intelligence about him. It appears that whenever he speaks, he has thought through and understands the consequences – probably a good trait for a Foreign Secretary.

Jack Straw represents the constituency of Blackburn, a constituency with a substantial Muslim community. In a recent interview with his local paper, Jack Straw generated a debate when he told the paper that when a veiled Muslim woman comes to his MP surgery, he asks her to remove her veil. (Note 1)

This has had the desired effect. A furious debate has been raging about the wearing of the veil and this has spread to include the wearing of other religious symbols.

The thing is, in the UK, there are traditions of people covering their faces.

Stand and Deliver! No, not your local friendly taxman, but the greeting of a highwayman.

The highwayman brought terror to travellers on British roads in the 17th and 18th century. (Note 2) The highwayman used terror to achieve their goals. Part of the terror was achieved by means of a mask. Yes, the mask served to stop them being recognised, but it also added menace to their demeanour.

A character from our nightmares – the executioner.

Eventually, the highwayman is supposed to get his comeuppance. When he does, his date is with the masked executioner. The state sanctioned killer hides his face behind the mask. The executioner is a charcter that we all hope to avoid – even in our dreams.

The bad guy in the wrestling ring wears a mask. The yobbos that terrorise neighbourhoods cover their faces with hoodies. When approached by a guy wearing a crash helmet we shy away. (Note 3)

You also need to consider the use of facial gestures when speaking. In English, small facial gestures can effect the strength of the words being spoken or even change their meaning. When the face is covered, we lose a high proportion of the non-verbal communication elements of a conversation and the opportunities for misunderstanding increase.

I understand why Muslims women feel that the wearing of the veil is a valid and essential way of showing their faith. However, I ask them to understand that in British culture, the covering of the face has sinister overtones. It has connotations with evil intent and malice. Continue wearing the veil, but please understand why others may ask you to remove it. If you don’t want to remove the veil, then please understand why some treat you with suspicion or even fear.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: It is important to note here that it is a request to remove the veil, not an instruction and that whether or not the request is granted, it doesn’t effect the way the constituent is treated. Click to return

NOTE 2 : Although I have to admit that the life of the highwayman became romanticised in books, TV and films. Just because they were made romantic heros in fiction, it doesn’t alter the fact that they were nasty pieces of work in real life. Click to return

NOTE 3: I can vouch for this from both ends of the argument. I used to ride a motorbike and I saw the look in peoples eyes when I approached them wearing a crash helmet. Click to return

There are exceptions. Some people are well suited to the mask.

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