Thursday, 5 July 2007

A tale of two veils

One of these stories is amusing, the other less so.

The first falls into the category of "less so". Last week I wrote about Ian Murray, the Manchester magistrate who refused to sit on the case of a Zoobia Hussain, a female defendant who turned up wearing a niqab (that's the one which shows only the wearer's eyes), after which she, for no very good reason, threw a tantrum, claiming that it was the biggest human rights violation since, well, the last time a Muslim had their feelings slightly hurt. The latest update in this saga is that she has now issued a formal complaint, via her solicitor, which has triggered an automatic investigation into Mr Murray's conduct. The result of this should be of interest to us all.

The second story comes from Pakistan. Readers may have heard of the recent clashes between Pakistani police and Islamists outside the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. Well, it seems that at the height of the battle, the leader of the terrorists, Abdul Aziz, displaying the same courage that is common to most Islamic leaders, attempted to escape, disguised in a niqab, and surrounded by similarly-attired women and girls. Sadly for Aziz, the women were stopped, and he was identified by his height and, apparently, his pot belly.

So, what can we learn from this? Well, first, that Abdul Aziz should probably lay off the Gulab jamun. Secondly, though, let's consider the link between these two cases. Abdul Aziz used the full veil in an attempt to disguise himself. In this he follows in the footsteps of, among others, John Simpson (who entered Taliban-controlled Afghanistan disguised in a niqab), and Mustaf Jama, the murderer of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, who fled the UK wearing his sister's niqab. These attempts, two of which were successful, to use the Islamic veil as a disguise demonstrate that the veil is, actually, a rather good way of hiding one's true identity. Which might go some way to demonstrating why defendants should not be allowed to turn up at court wearing them. After all, I couldn't enter a courtroom wearing a balaclava helmet, and that shows rather more of one's face than a niqab does.

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