TV UK, 18 June

Hijabs, eye-patches and other fashion statements.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

‘I think that every single person has a way of dressing or a way of looking at the world that’s different from the next person, and I think my way is just a bit more confrontational in a way because you just…I confront them with the way I look.’

It could be a punk or a New Romantic describing his outlandish hairdo in the 1980s, or a druggy raver showing off her face piercings in the 1990s. In fact, it is Muslim girl from Blackburn on last Sunday’s Panorama (BBC1) talking about her decision to wear a veil over her face.

In recent years it has become obvious that, in the West at least, Muslim women’s headgear is not really about ethnic tradition or religious devotion. The simple headscarf or hijab can be quite stylish, and the programme showed that in some cases it is just a slightly daring fashion statement for young Asian women. But the veil is, as Ameena put it, more confrontational. Covering the face is unavoidably strange (the local kids call her ninja), and by invoking the subordination of women in Islamic societies, it is a challenge to the values of our own society, and not stuffy old values, but very contemporary ones.

Given that in the case shown, however, and many others, wearing the veil is the freely made choice of a reasonably educated young woman, it does seem to have more in common with punk than oppression. The difference is that I don’t think any school head was ever stupid enough to send punks home on the grounds that they posed a security threat.

Moshe Dayan had a confrontational look too, a pirate-style eye-patch over his left eye. The Israeli general was a cult figure in the 1960s, personifying the belligerence of the Israeli state, and offering a new (at least since the Old Testament) idea of what it could mean to be Jewish. Dayan was the first of three figures profiled on Israel’s Generals, a BBC4 series shown on BBC2 this week.

It seems unlikely that the series, screened after Newsnight and mostly in Hebrew with subtitles, will entice anyone who hasn’t already got digital TV to make the leap, but it was worth showing in its own right. Using the classic ingredients of archive footage and talking heads, the three programmes relate the story of Israel from its formation in 1948 to the present day from the perspective of the military, covering some of the same events, such as the Six Day War, with a focus on each general in turn – the others being Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

Apart from the eye-patch, Dayan was notable for his recognition that as settlers, the Israelis would always have to fight for the land; indeed, that is why generals have always dominated Israeli politics. Dayan spoke Arabic, and was no bigot, but he was utterly ruthless in his defence of the state. Yitzhak Rabin, who eventually signed the Oslo Peace Accords, was equally uncompromising as a general. While his statement that the Jews ‘did not return to an empty land’ was considered to be of historic importance, from a military point of view this was surely rather elementary intelligence. Sharon, of course, is a belligerent Israeli general with few redeeming features, and has become one of the least popular figures on the world stage.

It remains to be seem whether the Muslim hijab will become as iconic a fashion accessory among Western radicals as the Palestinian scarf, but the eye-patch is definitely out.

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