“Burqa to Britney,” artwork by Emily J. Brondsema

To attentive readers (from this part of the so-miscalled West) of news about culture and religion in the Middle East, it is becoming clear that something is going on. First a British General, not so explicitly but more than implicitly, admits the total failure of the war in Iraq, while explicitly concluding that Britain needs to withdraw its forces from Iraq as soon as possible. Then Mr Blair (on his last political legs) seems to agree with the military chief, indirectly admitting his incompetence as Bush-led Prime Minister. At the same time, an unprecedented campaign against the Islamic hijab and niqab is spreading throughout Europe as well as in some secularised (and not-so democratic) countries such as Tunisia.

First of all, we have to observe that during this last month there has been a lack of news about acts of terrorism (of course, terror that kills Iraqi, Afghani or Muslims is not counted), plots, and Muhammad cartoons. How can we enjoy our daily preferred newspapers with one hand juggling the breakfast coffee mug, the other tying the mismatched tie, one foot in a shoe, and the other jihading with the rebellious tongue of the odd shoe, without a succulent populist comment about the evil Muslims? Come on! Like my ancestors, the Romans, we want tragedy, blood, despair, heroes, suspense, and the victory of good over evil in the coloseum of the mass media. Of course, Muslims can only play the Caligula of this saga. In these days, male Muslims seem not to have scared even one flight passenger (and consequently being arrested under one of the other Terrorist Acts), with their most powerful bugbear: the extremist beard. Normally having no beard, Muslim women have been thrown to the lions of the coloseum by old-white-men like Jack Straw in the hope that fighting for their rights (and possibly for their livelihood and dignity and security) Muslim women may reveal a little flesh.

Or perhaps, there is a secret reason for this campaign against Muslim dress style. CIA and MI5 have discovered that Bin Laden is neither dead nor hidden in the Hindu Kush, but rather travelling Europe and the Mediterranean donning a burqa or full niqab. In the West, the veil-debate has become a munus (i.e. gladiator show often sponsored by influential Roman politicians) which will increasingly alienate, ghettoize and expose the Muslims community to pre-holocaust style persecution. However, in some western-sponsored Muslim dictatorial states like Tunisia, the “War on veil/evil” becomes a good reason to oppress, torture and kill more political democratic female dissidents than before.

I also wonder if in this coloseum of goliardic political populism and stupidity will affect some of my non-Muslim students, many of whom follow current fashion by adopting scarves. In our society unfortunate women fighting cancer are even encouraged to adopt the scarf. Surely, this style, which has the same appearance as the stylish hijab, would not prevent them from becoming teachers or working in public domains. The problem, again, is not the piece of cloth, but what Westerners attach to it, despite the opinions of Muslim women. I wonder why this cloth debate rages when there are far more terrorizing events that need urgent solutions. We are possibly facing the worst nuclear crisis since the 1962 affair in Cuba. And I’m sorry, but there is no Kennedy and Khrushchev, only Cowboy Bush and King Kong Kim Jong Il. Is there a need for keeping us busy during breakfast by reading childish discussions on dress codes when “The War on Terror” is everyday revealed as an embarrassing failure? North Korea is a recent target, yet it was proven to have a nuclear arsenal when Saddam was only imagined to have WMDs. The war in Iraq and on Terror has allowed the mentally unstable Kim Jong Il to keep in his bedroom the most sought after presidential toy: the red-button. I suggest that Kim should name his first two North Korean atomic bombs Bush and Blair. I have also a design for the missiles: a burqa, an atomic one at that. And this is no mere veiled threat to world peace.

Gabriele Marranci