Wednesday, 17 June 2015

engineering the veil


The various political parties are banging on about purdah with regard to the eventual EU Yes/No vote.

Isn't it great to wheel out such an arcane term as purdah for the European Union decision? One that probably helps create a divide in the electorate based upon its very use? Oh, yes, and these same politicians are now referring to the electorate as 'The Public'.

Purdah in the current 'pre-election' meaning is an Edwardian term repurposed from its middle eastern meaning. There's multiple ironies in its use when discussing the European Union, not least that Edward VII was nicknamed the 'Uncle of Europe'.

The British public schoolboy corridors of power moved the word away from its use about the veil of female seclusion to instead being about government silence pre-election on matters of political controversy.

When I worked in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, purdah was ubiquitous. The woman all wore the black veils, there were separate zenana womens' areas in houses.

The local (Shwarmah) McDonalds had separate lines for men and women queuing. All the women or families had to sit behind a curtained or walled-off area in restaurants. The Starbucks logo was rebranded from the mermaid to the crown (I think this sinking mermaid logo is to becoming the new global branding) and famously the IKEA catalogues were reconstructed without showing women.

My nearby huge shopping mall (Saks of Fifth Avenue, Debenhams, M&S etc.) had its own separate floor for women - no men allowed. Religious police ensured that prayer times were upheld and the stores closed. In my experience, often these mutaween were accompanied two steps back by a soldier in a khaki uniform, just to ensure the message was understood.

Women couldn't drive cars, they had to sit in the back seats behind darkened windows. I still recognise the type of cars when I see them being used in London.

With an accustomed eye, one could spot that women would find ways to subtly accessorise the burqas they wore at all times in public. Then, for a while the rules slightly relaxed with even examples of non-black abayas being worn.

Since the change of monarch in the Kingdom this year, seen here in February with Prince Charles, the religious police have stepped it up again to reinforce the black abaya, nikab and gloves in public.

So when I hear purdah, I can't get my mind away from the Saudi version.

And here in Britain, why can't we just say 'pre-election period' or 'pre-referendum period'? Surely it can only be to confuse 'The Public'?

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