"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Monday, May 3, 2010

Follow-up on the niqab

Thanks again to Haley Sweetland Edwards for her essay on the niqab, below.   Coincidentally, last night I was re-reading Tahar Djaout's The Last Summer of Reason, a barely-veiled satire of the Islamist madness that was gripping Algeria in the late 80s and early 90s.  It is a small, beautiful book, made more tragic by Djaout's assasination at the hands of fanatics worried about the power of his words.  The manuscript for the book was found after his murder, and it is drenched with a tragic foretelling. 

Anyway, I wanted to type out a couple of passages that echoed what we've been talking about with the niqab, and the way fanaticism warps the relationship between the sexes. They might be slight exaggerations, but the mentality behind them is implicit in extremism. 

A man and a woman in the street, deeply engrossed in a griendly discussion.  She has no wish to avoid him.  He, the brute guided by his sex, does not think of throwing himself on her and knocking her down.  She is not hiding her face because she fears that might awaken the beast in hum.  He does not flee from her because he fears the devil in him might control his decisions.

Boualem Yekker is thinking of scenes that were once normal and natural, of men and women having discussions like human beings with reason, restraint and consideration; people capable of friendship, affection, respect, civic responsibility, and anger- men and woman so vastly different from the watchful beasts they have since become to each other.

From inside his store, through the triangle cut by the open door, he watches the black shapes, the hermetically sealed fabric that leaves no trace whatever of a human body.  Women are hiding inside, cursed beings of temptation and lust to be ignored by the eyes of the believer.  Sometimes he sees couples pass by, a strange togetherness of two people who avow no bond; the man, most often bearded, restricted by his hybrid garb of gandoura and jacket or an overcoat; the woman, entirely invisible inside her black tower.

The whole book is achingly sad and powerfully written and well worth reading, a masterpiece of the importance of doubt against certainty, and of words against The Word.  Well worth a read.

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