Monday, 16 October 2006

Have we all gone mad?

Some of the top-rated comments on the BBC website about this teaching assistant who wore the veil:

"As citizens we can only reasonably claim rights if we accept the obligation to show consideration to others. In this country the vast majority belong to a culture which is deeply ill at ease with the veil. The onus must be on the small minority who wish to dress this way to accommodate to the prevailing norm, just as western women are expected to dress discretely in Moslem countries."

This was the top rated comment. Actually, rights are inalienable, and we have them whether we are considerate or not. What I find astounding, also, is the implicit idea that we ought to judge ourselves by the standards of Saudi Arabia, or how minorities are tolerated in, say, Iran or Pakistan.

"Yes they should take it off,and when they go on a bus the driver cannot see if it is that person that is on a bus pass, this is never right if they want to live in this way they should go to a country where it is there way of life."

Now this man is really getting to the heart of things. It's the muslims, they only wear the veil to get the free bus passes! I've lived in this country all my life you know...

But my all time favourite:

"Its perfectly simple. No one in Britain should be allowed to put themselves in a position whereby others cannot see them or fully identify them at all times."

Wow.

Just wow.

Words fail me, so I'll cut and paste some John Stuart Mill, and add a few big angry italics:

This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. ... Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow; without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong....

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest."

So anyway, that is the kind of country I want to live in. What kind of country these people want to live in, I don't know. Heaven knows I am no cultural relativist. But this is surely just a straightforward issue of individual freedom. If you can't cope with the fact that people are different from you, if you can't live in society alongside people whose fundamental opinions and values you dislike, fear or despise - then you are not ready to live in a modern society.