Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The eyes are the window to the soul



In the North of England there is a chain of bakeries called Greggs. It is a bit of a standing joke amongst colleagues who sit in court in my home town, but do not come from there, that the local populace have a bad habit of wandering around town eating Greggs' pasties from the paper bag. It is true and ( despite Dennis disapproving) I do it myself from time to time. It may not be elegant but they taste good and it is what people who live where I live do.


Now, there is a branch of that bakery in Blackburn. In fact their ventilation shaft empties into the air just outside court room number one in Blackburn County Court and it is nigh impossible to conduct a case there in the morning without having an overwhelming urge to purchase a pasty at lunchtime. But I particularly like queuing in this branch because Blackburn is a town with a significant Muslim population and it is possible to stand there, debating whether to choose potato and meat or cheese and onion and to be joined by ladies in all types of Islamic dress including those wearing the full face veil. (Although this may cease soon as there is much debate on line as to whether Greggs vegetarian food is in fact haram).


Personally I find this fascinating. I rejoice in the combination of the great difference in our dress and the shared heritage of going to Greggs. Others in my country however find it harder to see below the black fabric to find the humanity underneath. Difference for them relates to fear and overt religious practice is confused with terrorism. People ask, "why can't they be like us', the words, 'them' and 'us' speaking ( in my personal opinion) to a division based on ignorance and intolerance rather than an acceptance based on commonality and curiosity about diversity.

Even in the law there is debate. What if a woman wearing a full face veil is to give evidence for example? Is it possible to assess truthfulness if her facial expressions are masked? What if an advocate wanted to wear one? My experience as an advocate of talking to woman with full niqab is that with attention to the eyes and voice tone there is no difficulty interpreting meaning and demeanour. (For those interested the guidance given to Judges dealing with this issue is here).


Many complaints about the wearing of the veil focus on the 'hiding' of the face. The underlying assumption is that there is a lack of openness, a deception which is seen as incompatible with our (for which read White -Christian- British) culture. ( In fact it is more about modesty.) Ironically there is an old English Proverb The eyes are the window to the soul which is not dissimilar to the Biblical phrase The eyes are the light of the body is the eye. Is it not possible that by stripping away the (often incorrect) assumptions we make and the prejudices activated on seeing clothing choices, jewellery styles, body shape or art, and focusing on the eyes only, we come to the truest way of assessing personality?

11 comments:

Dolores said...

I live in Toronto and this image was quite familiar. I always wonder if their daughters will later object to being fully covered when they have grown up in western society. What would that do to the family/religious values that the parents hold? Loads of discussion with just one image...

Karen said...

Helen, great political commentary with this on. It makes me think about these women in a very personal way.

Terry said...

Again, you have provided both a striking image and a thoughtful and intriguing idea. Besides being a "window to the soul" eyes are the connecting points between two people. Anyone who avoids eye contact is someone who is refusing to complete a human connection. Even when confronted with people of vastly different cultures, I believe once you make eye contact you can recognize part of yourself in that other person. Lovely piece. Lovely idea.

Diane said...

Helen, once again you've provided a striking and very thought-provoking piece. Even standing alone (without your fascinating commentary) your piece raises a lot of these issues because it illustrates so well how much eyes can reveal while the rest of the face is covered.

As a lawyer, I've never encountered this particular dress issue (the closest I came to having to deal with this sort of issue was a case where the defendant in a civil suit was in the process of transgender surgery and while he appeared "male" at the time of the relevant incident, by trial time he dressed and looked like a woman. Tricky to determine how that would affect a jury on the substantive issues.) At any rate, I was fascinated to learn that there were policies written for judges about this, and I went off to read them with great interest.

Your piece is very successful. Thanks for raising this really interesting issue!

Kristin L said...

Well said and well done.

StegArt said...

I wondered if anyone would have similar thoughts on the window theme as I did. Love your interpretation of 'windows to the soul' and your very thought provoking issues as well.

Gerrie said...

Helen! You are such a treasure and important part of this group. I look forward to the social commentary that will emerge from you with each new theme. This was very thought provoking. I have always been told that my eyes say everything about what I am thinking and I can not hide my true feelings. Thanks again for your thought provoking piece.

Françoise said...

Interesting interpretation of the theme, once again!
Your quilt is very effective.

twolimeleaves said...

I can't be the only one who wants to lift the veil and see who's underneath??? I kind of hope she's poking out her tongue!

I must add here that I have NEVER felt that way about a fellow human being - just this little quilt.

I was intrigued by your previously shown snippet, Helen, and wondered how you could possibly have incuded the coins in a quilt about windows. Duh!

Love the draping on the corners here. You always find interesting ways to express things technically. Great quilt!

Brenda said...

For me, there are two windows in this piece - the eyes and the window in the head scarf. Very striking.

Anonymous said...

You make me think deeper into stuffs like these. You have really good opinions etc. Seriously, you've opened up my eyes to something more..