Veils and Belgium
On May 22 I videoed the demonstration outside the Belgian embassy in London. The protest was about the decision by the Belgian parliament to ban the wearing of the veil in public places. Similar rules exist in Turkey, a Moslem country with an Islamic governing party, and the French have also been talking about a ban. So not all that controversial, probably.

As it happens I more or less agree with the protestors. I think women should be allowed to wear veils or masks or pretty much anything they want to in public, but I am less keen on children, particularly young children, wearing veils. I don't like girls of 11 or 12 being artificially introduced to the adult world of sexuality (which is what this is all about).

On the whole I agreed with the very small but highly passionate protest. I was quite proud of being British when I heard that a similar protest in France had been banned. Even if I had completely disagreed with the protest I would have thought it proper that they should have the right to demonstrate.

But they were very difficult people to agree with. Inflamed by the Belgian ban, speakers called for the introduction of Sharia law quite clearly to replace the current legal code in Belgium, not to run alongside it. In addition they wanted to roll back feminism, and speakers also made it clear that they could not tolerate homosexuality.

Of course, I know that there are feminists who wear the veil in some circumstances and there are even Islamic women who support the general wearing of the veil but describe themselves as feminists.

The argument that women are exploited in the west is a very strong one. Sexual images of women are freely available everywhere and are even used to sell everything from vegetables to sports cars. But that is the nature of freedom. If you give people freedom they are liable to do things you don't like.

There were two really striking things about this demo. Firstly, some of the protestors took time off to pray, which was quite endearing. Secondly, the protest was segregated with a portable fence erected between the men and the women. The idea, no doubt, was to protect the women from any unpleasantness. There were even placards pointing out that the idea behind the veil, Sharia law and Islamic philosophy was to honour women.

Well, maybe. No doubt there were many proponents of separate development in apartheid South Africa who said that what they were doing was protecting black culture and enabling the blacks to fulfil their own unique destinies. I don't believe you can honour someone unless you accord them full civil rights, including the rights to marry who they like and dress any way they want without fear of persecution. Islamic societies like Saudi Arabia do not tend to define honour in this way.

Since the demo was about the wearing of the veil I made sure I got a lot of video of the veil wearing women. But this alarmed one of the young bucks on the demo. He warned me to stop videoing the women and to point my camera at the male speakers. "This is England mate," I said. "People who demonstrate can be videoed." Though, I am far from convinced this is actually the law.

He warned me that he would complain to the police about me. No doubt he did, but the police seemed to be taking a robustly sensible attitude. One officer was positively apologetic when he asked me what I intend to video. Considering the fuss there has been about section 44 (Anti Terrorism Act) this was quite refreshing. The officer also asked me to avoid videoing him: 'I've told my friends I'm in the SAS so I don't want them to see me in a policeman's uniform." A good joke and there was something very British about it.

Posted by Jonathan Brind at 04:04