Behind The Ban

It was only last year when another dose of Islamophobia hit the headlines in Europe. This time it was about the burqa. Why discriminatory government legislation should be placed upon a religious freedom is just another one of the wonders of our world. Nonetheless, France updated their ban of the hijab to also include the burqa, with a potential fine of 150 Euros if fractured. From one political mask to the other, the importance of sight has become evermore important. The City of London, otherwise recognized as “One Nation under CCTV”, has an estimated 60’000 cameras throughout. Although the European Union pulled Spain’s and England’s reigns in, the media hype behind the ban affected many in this culture capital.

The debate over the legislation against Islamic dress created a divide. The line between religious freedom and secularism became blurred. Whilst European governments chose secularism as their political tool, the public questioned secularism’s unjust use against religious freedom. On one side of the scale the veil creates a barrier between sexes, and is believed to “put women in a relationship of subordination to men.” (1789 French Declaration of Human Rights) They have also become an obstacle for security measures taken at airports. On the other side, the veils are a religious choice (sometimes enforced), and a traditional symbol of modesty. By contrasting Venetian eye masks with the hijab, I aspire to understand why “The eyes are the window into one’s soul”, and the importance of reading between the lines. Venetian eye masks and Islamic veils maintain a fascinating sense of mystery for opposing reasons. While Venetian eye masks are extremely attractive, the veils are not for adornment.

The history of Venetian masks reveals religious significance. Documents from the thirteenth century affirm that they were worn during pre-Lenten festivals, like the Carnivale. Today the masks symbolise disguise. The nature of the mask is to protect the wearer’s identity during promiscuous and decadent activities. The more elaborate the mask, the wealthier the individual. This is calculated by the amount of glitter and number of feathers visible. Conversely, evidence shows the cultural reasoning for wearing veils is dependent on geography. Veils are pre-Islamic, as the women of Persia and Arabia originally wore them for protection against sand and sun. The Qur’an and the Hadith require men and women to dress modestly in public. For women, the degrees of modesty range from a simple headscarf, the hijab, to full face and body concealing robes like the abaya and burqa.

In 2004, French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to reinforce secularism by placing a ban on conspicuous signs of religion in educational spaces. These included small cross pendants, the hijab and Jewish skullcaps. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, amounting to an estimated 5 million in a nation of 65 million large. Only 1’900 women wear the burqa. Nicolas Sarkozy stated, “We must not fight the wrong battle. In the republic, the Muslim faith must be respected as much as other religions.” Yet actions speak louder than words. In the early months of 2010, Belgium became the first European state to ban all Islamic dress in public and educational spaces. Belgium’s Muslim population reaches an estimated 500’000, of whom only 29 wear the burqa. An individual on the BBC ‘Have Your Say’ questioned if passing a national law on no more than thirty female civilians qualified as persecution. Nonetheless, countries like Denmark and the Netherlands are intent on following suit. The Dutch government’s attitude towards the legislation is summed up in one popular quote: “They chose to live with us in Christian countries so they must obey our customs”, as said by J. M. Badoux-Gillbee. Muslims make up no more than 6% of the Dutch and Danish populations.

The Taliban’s ascendance to power in 1996 resulted in the burqa becoming the most common form of veiling in Afghanistan. From this perspective, the fear of the burqa is comprehensible. This fear however, does not justify legislation against the veil, and is a political misuse of secularism in the West. The issue of the burqa is no longer a pawn in an age-old battle between East and West, but a deadly symptom of Islamophobia. Any public expression of Islam has become a threat. The values that Europe feels are being threatened by Islamic dress are the very same ones being used to oppose the ban. There can be no trust in a state that strips away personal and religious rights by dictating what should be worn. As the French philosopher Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of your dress, but I will defend to the death your right to wear it.”

The dynamics of dress operate simultaneously as religious, ethnic and gender identifications. Venetian eye masks and hijabs are very alluring garments. One designed to fire a man’s imagination; the other, makes man responsible for not looking at a woman lustfully. Both reveal only one source of true identity. The eyes. “The eyes are the windows into one’s soul.” The soul is your supra-natural self. An attractive pair of eyes has the power to lure in any targeted subject; just as a sad pair can seduce sympathy. They allow one’s personality to be read. This project’s aim is to emphasise the identity of a woman through her eyes. All masks whether frivolous, like the Venetian ones, or austere veils, enhance the eyes. But are our eyes insightful enough to see beyond all types of masks? What is their purpose? What lies beneath?



This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Things To Come

Hey All Of You,

I hope you have all had a great summer. I am currently in the process of  developing a new blog entitled Thoughts and Thorns. It’ll be available soon. For now, here’s a sneak peak:

Reading Nature

Positive Vibrations

Dear All,

My sincerest apologies for  not adding anything new to my blog for the past few months. My clumsiness got the better of me at the beginning of the year whereby I spilt a drink all over my laptop. That problem has finally been resolved! I was also struck ill in March and travelled back to Lebanon for an everloving and healing recovery. Nevertheless, my camera has not left my side and there are many pictures to come, along with those for the Final Project!

For now, here’s Regent’s Park in Spring’s sunshine:

Photojournalism Photo-Story: Culture Capital

Living in a chaotic and hard working city like London, we tend to take for granted the unity that holds such a gloriously diverse capital together. The contemporary world has brought closer a wide range of people onto this tiny island; and often I find myself saying: “What a small world!” The ethnologist, Johann G. Herder, stated that nations are the embodiments of unique sets of cultural characteristics. Their qualities have been shaped by their ancestor’s history, environment, and mental construction of their world through language, and law. Each person has individual differences but shares cultural traits. As a photojournalist, I searched London’s streets for examples of cultural unity. Along the way however, my story changed. I realised that whilst London may be extremely diverse, there is shockingly little intermixing of cultural traditions. What I found was a city engorged in pub culture and lacking in courtesy to strangers.

The United Kingdom is an amalgamation of nations, and London, like Paris and New York City, is a culture capital of the world. In the mid-nineteenth century, London already had an established Jewish, Black and South Asian population. As a consequence of the World Wars, it also became a home to refugees from war-torn Europe. As a result, London has progressed as a multi-cultural city that today speaks over three hundred different languages. The demand of acceptance and tolerance of others inevitably increased ethnic nationalism and hostility. Samuel P. Huntington described these antagonisms as the “clashes of civilisation.” As an aspiring anthropologist, he completely overlooked the aspect of individual behaviour. London has eternally been criticised for its pub culture and social behaviour. Nevertheless, peace is found between groups of culturally, religiously, and nationally diverse individuals. Culture is an attribute to society that provides a collective identity greater than nationality and religion. As argued by Franz Boas, in his theory of Cultural Relativism, the cultural conditioning of behaviour is ultimately accomplished through habituation; acts of the unconscious rather than rational deliberation. We are creatures of emotion. What we do, our actions, tales, and what comes back to us, all reflect what our lives represent. Our natural empathy for others, our desires to laugh and make others smile is an inherent human trait.

The “father of American psychology”, William James, wrote that “Man, biologically considered, and whatever else he may be in the bargain, is simply the most formidable of all the beasts of prey, and, indeed, the only one that preys systematically on its own species.” Greed, violence, and selfish intent, has made those suffering, whom are entitled to equal human rights, invisible to many of us. Unwilling nations have been thrown into illegal wars, populations turned numb by biased newsmongers, and millions of individuals swallowed by materialism. Whilst we have embraced the incredible advancements in technology, we have turned a blind eye to our Earth, our humanity, and our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Put aside the world’s flaky foreign policies, imperialistic mindsets, religious outbursts, the boundaries that come with borders, and what do you have left? Humanity. Humanity is at the base of cultural diversity. It is the foundation to all the colourful combinations of culture, art, science, knowledge, and Enlightenment. We cannot afford to forget that. After centuries of cultural mingling, London is finally proud to announce that it has reached the stage where it’s different ethnic groups are assimilating. At the very least, they are cooperating. I expected more.

The theory of Cultural Relativism states that, “All cultures are equally developed according to their own priorities, and values. None is better or more advanced or less primitive than the other.” They are systems of shared beliefs, values, traditions, behaviours and artefacts. They are simply different to each other, unique in their own way. Culture has not failed in its ancient transmission of acquired conceptions of what is right and wrong, or of life. We, humanity, be it on a personal or collective scale, have failed to develop, learn, share and perpetuate our knowledge.

Seeing London’s people stride on with modern-day vigour has actually made me sad. Our cosmopolitan capital is victim to its own materialistic gods. There seems to be no time to acknowledge the street fundraisers who chug on until they have made the world a better place. Our gratitude for what we have seems to be diminishing. Our lack of appreciation is most obvious in our lack of thanks to those who keep London alive and clean, who build and who water it. When was the last time you said “Thank-you” to a street cleaner? Or said “Good job!” to a construction worker? The most unifying traits in society are based on courtesy. Politicians and governments tend to defend their support for culture in purely economic terms. They encourage the idea that culture can be used to increase economic stability through tourism and, at the moment, the Olympic Games.  Culture is much more profound than a tool used by society to increase material welfare. It enriches our lives enormously.

I hope the photographs that I took provide a window into the myriad of cultures that make up London. A glimpse at how they interact on a daily basis. The contrasting elements of the subjects are all in play, and it is easy to see where cultural understanding and racial acceptance have developed; and where there is room for change. Positive change can come in all shapes and sizes: From the most dramatic and long-term initiatives, to the simplest and quietest random acts of kindness. Governments worldwide need to raise awareness of civil behaviour. We need to care for each other more. In the Economist, an article entitled How broken is Britain? said that, “self-destructive behaviour today in part reflects the perception that our lives are not worth much.” Valuing culture and paying more attention to how we interact with one another, will fortify our society. Britain is not broken; it is struggling with the fact that it lives in a cosmopolitan world, and London is paying the price: moral bankruptcy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Man is the only animal that laughs and cries; for he is the only one that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.

– William Hazlitt.

By F.L.W.

The rest of the pictures can be found on the Photojournalism page.

An Autumn’s Day in Regent’s Park