I hate mornings, there is something deeply depressing about crawling into work while it is still dark knowing that for the next twelve hours you'll be run ragged.The current topic of conversation in the messroom at the moment is the furor over Jack Straw's suggestion that Muslim women wearing full face veils only divide communities.
My patch has a huge number of Muslims, some days I'll only attend to Muslims. This isn't a problem for me as most of them are polite and don't get horribly drunk and try to hit me.
On more than one occasion I've turned around to discover that the patient I've been talking to has 'robed up', the woman has turned from a person into a black 'blob', it's always surprising to see such a total change.
I'm a big believer in freedom of expression, and I have no problem with people wearing whatever they want, but the burka and it's relatives can make my life difficult.
You see, I'm a bit hard of hearing, and if the person I'm talking to has a strong accent I tend to get more meaning from lip-reading rather than just listening to them. If the person has a full face covering then it's often tricky for me to hear what they are saying. Add in the fact that the back of an ambulance isn't the quietest place on earth and the problem becomes a lot worse.
I don't want to offend people, but it does annoy me to keep saying 'pardon?' because I can't understand what the person is saying. I'm trying to be as nice as possible here (considering I believe *all* religion to be foolish), but what is more important, the wearing of a veil or the ability for the ambulance man to understand you and your illness?
It's Ramadan at the moment, so loads of people are fasting and again this can lead to offense…
I went to a gentleman who had fainted, as he was South-East Asian I asked him if he had been fasting (as this is a common cause of collapsing at this time of year). He told me that he was a Hindu rather than a Muslim, and that he hated all Muslims due to the fighting that had occurred between the two faiths in the past.
I apologised, and the patient wasn't bothered by my assumption – but another person may have taken offense and complained. It can be a minefield out there, especially given some religious adherents near constant level of being offended.
Still it could be worse, we could be killing each other over which sect of a religion we belong to…
Sent from a mobile phone, probably from the cab of an ambulance.

25 thoughts on “Veil”

  1. I also live in a cery culturally mixed area, in the Midlands, and I've known Hindus who fast on certain days of the week. The lady I am thinking of's fasting usually consisted of eating only fruit and drinking water on that day each week, but I think a question about fasting would not neccessarily imply that you thought an Asian person was Muslim.Regarding the current debate about the veil, I personally think that part of the problem may lie in the fact that throughout history -in the west, at least, the only people who have covered their faces are those hiding their identities because they are up to no good.

    -Highwaymen with their hankerchiefs over mouth and nose, the IRA with their balaclavas and even in America the KKK with their white hoods spring to mind.

    Therefore we may KNOW logically that the reason behind the veil is a pious religious one, but it may still trigger a negative emotion response for us.

    Last year my parents were in Borneo, a Muslim country, and remarked to their local guide that they had seen far fewer veiled women than they did at home. The guide replied that the full veil was banned ever since terrorism became an issue. Their Muslim government had no such qualms about offending people's religious sensitivities.

  2. I'd move it to the top of the pile. I've just finished it and it's a wonderful book.As to burkha's and veils; I have no problems with women wearing head scarfs and the like but things like the burkha which is designed maliciously to repress women is an abomination.

    The phrase “out of sight out of mind” i think perfectly describes what was intended for the burkha.

    There are muslim women throught the world risking execution and lesser but equally horrid punishments for trying to gain the right to schooling, to freedom of thought. To actually being allowed to own property drive a car, or even to leave the house without being forced to be accompanied by a “male member of the family”.

    Yet in Britain where those rights already exist there are women that voluntarily wear the burkah and undermine everything those courages women elsewhere are struggling to achieve, and they disgust me.

    I sincerily hope it is only a tiny minority and the rest are forced by their family and community, but i've no proof. In either case, someone is repressing women in this country and it has to stop.

  3. Please forgive this (in places tongue-in-cheek) rant in advance – the issue concerned deals with something quite close to heart at the moment – namely how hard it is to attempt to integrate into and communicate with a community notorious for its inability to practise two-way integration (and is seemingly utterly ignorant to the effects!).Having emigrated from one culture to another, I feel slightly qualified to say something about how 'integration' works (or how it should work versus how it actually works)…..You see, people (usually politicians) whitter on at length about how 'society' should embrace 'diversity' – yet at the end of the day, what one society tends to prefer is that people joining it be “just like them”, so the process tends to work one way only.Some say, “If you join our culture, you abide by our laws, customs, practices, whatever, or you go back to where you came from!!!” Others say the same thing but in a much nicer way. Personally, I abide by the laws to the letter – I like freedom and not jail – but I have problems with some practices/customs – I like compromise.Now in some areas this could be a good thing (like language for example) but in others it becomes a pain in the arse. For example, I have bent over backwards to adopt customs and social manners here but every day I encounter people utterly ignorant to my own customs and social manners – so who's wrong? Neither or both? That's quite a wide question – so let's narrow it down to communication……Here, expressions of frustration (to take just one example), often caused by simple misunderstanding or confusion, are seen as horrific outbursts of violent conduct and people feel *gasp* “threatened” (they also lack understanding of what sarcasm is) by me and one gets nowhere in the attempt to communicate something important or even urgent. Yet in my own culture back in Blighty, you the reader would more than likely recognise it as just normal frustration and more than likely not feel threatened and more than likely understand the frustration and work out a way to identify its cause and cure……it's all down to how one looks and sounds, as well as what one says……So.Studies have identified the following and I used this information in hundreds of training sessions to thousands of people over 7 years or so in the service sector in the UK.How you look (visual impact) covers 55% importance of how you are perceived.How you sound (vocal impact) covers 38%.What you say (content) is only 7%.So if I cannot see you speaking, or adequately assess how you sound, and all I have is a muffled voice behind a veil/burkha/egg sandwich & Liverpool scarf then I'm not going to be able to really appreciate up to 90% of the message you're trying to send me!In UK culture then, people joining it should at least be made aware of how important the above is – and it has ABSOLUTELY NAFF-ALL TO DO WITH RELIGION!!!!! But the media/politicians/PC-brigade prefers to make a big deal/headlines/soundbites out of it and here's where I support Tom totally – his job is hard enough when people cannot express themselves in a way he can understand as necessary (and vice-versa). Here's where I am with MartinSGill too – it's less to me about a religion suppressing their women (different argument, I'm an evangelical humanist too!), it's more that a particular aspect of a religion is causing a significant section of UK society to be perceived as oppressed and there are clear examples of how this affects daily life (medical professionals like Tom being hindered in a role designed to HELP!). So both sides lose out – because of religion and also a socio-political minefield whereby one is accused of discrimination for one reason or another if one attempts to make a sound, reasonable point with no personal agenda or intended offence (!).Those joining UK cultures should consider how their intended messages are being received. Those already in UK culture should consider the impact of asking people to adjust their own cultural practices. There needs to be really clear communication, free from political/religious/vote-gaining/paper-selling dogma as to the benefits of meeting halfway.Then again I'm also an idealist ;)If I had my way, I'd ban religion AND politics in one fell swoop and save millions of lives a year………..!

  4. i find the line “when did you last eat”, cover most bases. if they say they are opervering Ramadan, and look mift, the reply is looks at my watch “oh yes, so it is, where this year gone to”got a laugh out of the pats wife. but we dont have many Muslims in this part of the country.

  5. “Five exclaimation marks, sure sign of a deranged mind.”-Terry Pratchett.

    Some really good ideas lost in a ramble. The veil is more cultural than religious, and frightened people often act irrationally.

  6. From a hearing point of view I'm like you Tom and I lose voices in noisy situations and often have to rely on lip-reading to fully understand what is being said to me. I find it really frustrating if people cover their mouths, or look away from me when they are speaking, then I end up asking to repeat themselves.When I have students in my class they usually cotton on quite quick, or I tell them – thankfully adults are usually quite grown-up about it, but in everyday life where people can't see you might have some difficulty hearing it just seems to end up be becoming frustrated and them being annoyed with me for misunderstanding them.I might wear glasses and not care but I'm still too vain for a heairng aid so I'm my own worst enemy I know!

  7. Yup – deranged (got medicine to prove it) – and I'm sure Douglas Adams said that about “!” first but anyway.. *grin*………yeah……I ramble………lots……… :/

    People tend to fear that which they don't understand. So if one is misunderstood, one can either react with one's own fear (or in a manner which creates more fear) or one can attempt to clarify – which is easier to do? QED.

  8. It really bugs me when people talk with their mouth covered, whether it's with a veil or a scarf or a surgical mask or their hand. I'm not Deaf in any way, but I find it very very difficult to focus on audio input alone. I avoid phone conversations in favour of face-to-face or email conversations for this reason.I reckon there's nothing wrong with politely *asking* people to remove a face-covering, especially if you are prepared to give a reason why. If you don't ask, you don't get – and by the same token, they don't know that it's causing you problems unless you tell them. I don't know many Muslims personally, but those I do know would be horrified if they thought they were doing something that caused another person real difficulty.If you were stomping back to your ambulance saying “well if you're wearing a niqab I'm not going to treat you, so there!” it would be a different matter entirely. The pity is that there is a reactionary, extremist minority who seem to be acting like this is the case, and getting the perfectly reasonable majority of Muslims a bad name.

  9. The difference is that, if I'm writing an email or a blog comment, I think about what I'm writing. I review it before posting and make sure I've said what I want to say as unambiguously as possible. I know that because we're not face-to-face, there's more chance of something being taken the wrong way.I'm probably talking bollocks anyway, but that's just me…

  10. That's a whole hornets nest waiting to be kicked into life. Personally I don't think it matters what religion/color/dress style a patient adopts – when they're in our hands, they are just The Patient. They all bleed the same color. They all have the same body systems. Taking the time to explain as best you can why you need to do something and respecting the patient as a human being, you'll never go wrong.Besides, just drive a bit quicker and make it 'someone else's problem' at the ED.

  11. Yes, I thought this too.Even during Ramadan, people still eat – so it's a perfectly valid question regardless of their relgious views. It's only between sun-up and sun-down that Muslims cannot eat, drink, smoke or have sex. However, if fasting would be dangerous for somebody, they are exempted.

    I cannot see who you could possibly offend by asking “When did you last eat”


  12. Practical matters aside (obviously, there's a real problem if your friendly ambulance rescuer can't hear what you're saying!), the philosophical issue rests on choice. People should be able to wear what they like.And that's where I have a big problem, because many Muslim women don't actually like. Burkas, for instance, cause painful compression around the head and headaches because you're wearing what amounts to a blanket held on only by a headband. The Religious Policeman blogsite used to have a hilarious-but-highly-creepy video of a couple of Saudi women eating spaghetti at a sidewalk cafe. It's the sort of thing that's funny only if you're NOT there. Imagine having to put up with that kind of handicap in your daily life. However, if women don't wear full veils, they can get acid thrown in their faces or get raped.

    That may not be a problem in England, but that kind of threat in the background is enough to get millions of people to change their behavior. Look at what happened with the increase in the fear of flying based on the very small possibility of a terrorist attack on a given plane.

    Many Muslim women are wearing full veils not so much because they want to as because they're uncomfortable at the thought of not doing it. That's just plain wrong. People should be able to wear what they want.

    But the only cure that's been shown to work is the Turkish solution of simply banning the things that make you faceless. That breaks the cycle, and then eventually people can get back to wearing whatever level of veil actually holds meaning for them. But in the meantime, people can't wear what they want.

    It's a difficult question.

  13. The BBC has a “have your say” on this topic where a number of posters professing to be Muslim women are insisting that wearing the niqab IS their choice and they should be free to do so.Well, if someone else claims the freedom to wear what they like, then I claim the freedom to speak out and tell them that it causes me difficulties.

    The reactionary minority seem to feel that the women wearing the niqab can wear what they want… but that other people shouldn't be allowed to say what they want.

    “It's really difficult for me to understand you when your mouth is covered, would you mind removing your veil/mask/whatever?” is NOT an expression of religious hatred, nor is it an insult or discrimination or incitement to violence. It's a polite and reasonable request that I have the freedom to make.

    Of course the person with the obscured face has the freedom to say “no, actually I would mind.”

    This is the point at which the issues about separation, segregation, and willingness to integrate come into play.

  14. There's something to that: the Lone Ranger spent a lot of each episode explaining that he was a good guy really, despite the mask…

  15. I agree. 'Freedom of choice' also means women can stay with partners who abuse them, if it is their choice to do so. But the conviction with which they say it's their own fault they get beaten up, because they make their partner angry, doesn't mean that they aren't repressed.The fact that someone chooses to do something and believes in why they do it doesn't mean that they haven't been taught to think that way, and it doesn't make it necessarily the right choice, by universal standards.

    But then again I'm another sceptic when it comes to the 'benefits' of religion…

  16. i went to egypt a year ago, and it's interesting that i saw many more women wearing the veil here in london than i saw in egypt…

  17. Hey, maybe that's the answer! As many superheroes wear masks as do villains. Batman, Superman, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, Dangermouse….We just need to start seeing women in Burkas as potential superheroines. (Though I would imagine the outfit might slow them down a little when crime fighting).

  18. Tom you are my saviour! How's that for a compliment?I have been stewing for days now over the furour caused by Mr Straws comments, all because I could not leave my feedback to that news story on the BBC News web site.

    I am deaf, I fully accept Mr Straws observation and to have you actually speak it for me, in almost the exact words I wanted to say has cured me of my frustrated tension.

    I am a long, long way from racist and I too, dont care what people wear or don't wear, what religious beliefs they choose to follow (come and live in Switzerland and you will see eactly what I mean), everyone has their rights and I respect them. However, I feel rude and embarrassed if I keep saying pardon. Also the problem is ten times worse where accents are involved too.

    So, its nothing to do with personal prejudices – its PRACTICAL.

  19. To play devil's advocate (since religion is on the table LOL) I recall a recent report that proved men's decision making faculties were noticeably impaired by the presence of attractive women.Supposing this is true, surely veils should be mandatory in life or death situations involving (straight/bi) male medics and, given the range of male age-related fetishes, any woman at all?

    Just throwing a little more input in, and for the record I think tens of thousands of dead Iraqis have done more to damage relations with the Muslim community than a few women's clothes….

    Misogyny and blaming women for men's screw-ups never goes out of fashion, and no-one comments on the far eastern habit of wearing a “hygiene” face mask on public transport I note.

    Should SARS or “bird flu” strike the capital I wonder how much we'll all need to see our fellow commuter's expressions then?

  20. Well it didnt take long for the jokes to start, got this one on my text the other day:”Chant at a muslim strip club………..'Get your face out for the lads!'”

    Think Jack Straw achieved his aim, of raising his profile by chosing an issue with so many viewpoints

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