Category Archives: niqab

Decaying, degenerate London

Made in China

Dalrymple writes of a visit to the English capital:

I stayed on the border between a rich and a poor part: on one side houses costing millions, on the other social housing for the drawers of social security.

Dalrymple’s hotel

faced the poor quarter. Two huge liquid crystal screens, one of them relaying a trailer for the latest violent film, ensured that no one had to rely on the resources of his own mind for stimulation.

The paving stones were

mottled with trodden-in chewing-gum. A guitar-strumming beggar, probably a drug addict, sought the attention of hurrying pedestrians.

The hotel was noisy. In England, Dalrymple points out,

the sound of people enjoying themselves is indistinguishable from the sound of someone being kicked to death (the two are often the same), and this noise filtered into our bedroom. From time to time, including at 4am, police cars with a variety of ear-splitting sirens passed by, giving notice from afar to malefactors of their approach.

The architecture

was as appalling as that in the rich area was graceful, appalling as only British, French, and Soviet modernism (which are of the same lack of inspiration) can be.

The number of fast-food outlets was very high, and on the border between the two areas was a vast shopping mall catering to both

the hamburger-eating classes

and

the organic-gluten-free-bread-eating classes, worried about the state of their bowels in 30 years’ time.

The mall attracted the typical British shopper, i.e.

the insolvent in pursuit of the unnecessary.

Nearby was

a market in which the really hard-pressed searched for bargains, from their carrots to their niqabs, the latter manufactured in China. What better symbolises modern globalisation than a cheap niqab made in China and sold in London?

Arabian eroticism

Flying from Riyadh to Mogadishu on Saudia, Dalrymple is placed for the first and only time in his life in first class (for lack of seating elsewhere on the aëroplane). Soon after take-off,

niqab are thrown off with a flourish, revealing the women underneath to be stylishly, expensively, and in some cases scantily dressed in tight-fitting designer clothes, as well as heavily made up.

He comments:

The reality of a society is often different from at least some of its appearance.

A doctor working in Arabia tells Dalrymple that

the inviolability of the women’s quarters in a Saudi household and the niqab itself are conducive to extramarital affairs, provided the male lover is prepared to don a niqab himself, which he often is.

Vestimentary horseplay at Istanbul Atatürk Airport

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 23.37.44In Constantinople, writes Dalrymple, many of the women are in Mahometan dress,

including in the horrible, shapeless gabardine sack which seems recently to have been devised to preserve their modesty.

At Istanbul Atatürk Airport, still named after Mustafa Kemal (for now, he notes), he watches this scene unfold at the immigration desk:

A Saudi couple approached it, he in canary-yellow Lacoste T-shirt (to which his physique was unsuited), jeans and Adidas trainers in which he never had, and never would, run; she in full crow-black niqab, with a slit for her eyes. When she reached the immigration officer, he asked her to lift her veil. She was reluctant to do so, and he signalled to her again. She lifted it so fleetingly, with an upward flick, that he could see little, certainly not whether her face corresponded to that in her passport. He made it clear that she had to lift her veil for longer. She refused and he, exasperated, pointed to a desk at which there was a female immigration officer. The same scene was re-enacted there, but eventually, realising that unless she complied she would not be allowed through, she lifted the veil long enough for the officer to be satisfied.

Darymple’s gorge rises and he asks:

  • What imaginary threat was obviated by this vestimentary rigmarole?
  • What were the woman’s feelings during this episode? Fear was on her face when I saw it, but fear of what? The wrath of God or of her husband? That anyone catching a glimpse of her would assault her sexually? Or was it the fear of a creature of the night when exposed to daylight?
  • If it were so necessary to preserve her from the impure or polluting gaze of strangers, why travel?