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The Veil and Western Cultural Intolerance

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Father Frank Julian Gelli, spiritual adviser to Lady
Diana, Princess of Wales, before she died, has taken
on the Right Reverend John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
and Britain's No. 2 Anglican prelate regarding his
view of the Muslim veil.

Archbishop Sentamu, one of the world's highest-ranking
black Anglican leaders, stated that Muslim women who
wear the veil in public do not conform to norms of
"decency." Father Gelli's conclusion is that the
archbishop is wrong and out of line.
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He writes in a privately-circulated newsletter called
"Father Frank's Rants": "Dr Sentamu's approach to the
veil is daring. From The Times [of London], the priest
learns that he appeals to the authority of Muslim
scholars, no less. About this thorny subject, he
speculates expert 'Ulama would ask whether
veil-wearing is in accordance with decency.In fact, no
example of Islamic savants' rulings is given. Instead,
he gives his own -- decency and the veil do not go
together. Well!

"As it happens, [United Kingdom] Muslim scholars and
leaders have spoken about the veil controversy, loud
and clear. In a joint statement with 27 signatures,
far from agreeing with the archbishop, they repeatedly
cite the Qur'an and declare that the veil
'irrespective of specific juristic rulings, is an
Islamic practice and not a cultural or customary one
as is agreed by the consensus of Muslim scholars. It
is not open to debate.'

"Now, that's plain speaking. Anglican prelates could
take a leaf out of it. Someone should let Sentamu
know, I think. Unless this fine Christian man believes
himself endowed with exceptional divine competence to
interpret Shariah law -- plus Musulman que les
Musulmans: mon diable."

This brings back my own memories of covering the
United Nations Fourth World Women's Conference for The
Washington Times in China in September-October 1995,
where intolerant Western feminists congregated at the
Australian-hosted lesbian tent on the Sunday before
the official conference started in Beijing at the
non-government organization week in a village 40 miles
from Beijing called Huarou.

The lesbian feminists stampeded Muslim exhibits in the
village, ripped off veils of Muslim women, insulted
them, tossed red-blood-type liquid on their exhibits
and artifacts -- a hate crime I witnessed. I wrote
that story for The Washington Times and got it on Page
One. Needless to say, the New York Times, Associated
Press, major television networks, CNN, et cetera,
ignored the story completely as if it hadn't happened.

According to Father Gelli, the high-profile Archbishop
Sentamu, originally from Uganda, is highly-respected
in Britain, an early critic of the war on Iraq, a
"spirited" defender of British culture, and could be
successor to the Right Reverend Rowan Williams as the
next Archbishop of Canterbury. Father Frank asks if he
might be "ailing Anglicanism's future Great Black
hope."

But as Fathert Frank observes, the Senatmu's use of
the word "decency" regard Muslim women's wearing of
the veil is "rather peculiar," as it conjures up the
Oxford dictionary's negative definition regarding
"avoidance of obscenity," chiefly of a sexual nature.
"Now, could a pious, modest, self-effacing female who
covers parts of her body in public be deemed obscene
in that sense?" Princess Diana's favorite priest asks.

"The reverse seems true. Indecent behaviour, as in
'indecent exposure', means the act of publicly and
indecently exposing one's body. Such as the erogenous
zones -- unbecoming nudity, that is. Covering parts of
one's body, however outwardly bizarre it might look,
cannot be termed indecent. Not even super-Protestant
[Northern Irish political leader] Ian Paisley would
have called the good Roman Catholic nuns of bygone
days -- the strictest ones covered from head to foot
(like present-day, sweet Carmelite and TV art-critic
Sister Wendy Becket) -- 'indecent.'"

Father Frank grew up in Catholicism and says he
associates "headscarf-wearing Muslim ladies with the
nuns of my youth -- incongruous, no doubt -- but the
point is that to call some such manners of faith dress
obscene or indecent or immoral is linguistic nonsense:
As Oxford philosophers used to say, an example of
language 'going on holiday.'"

His rant gets good at this point: "Mind you, not just
a semantic bee in my bonnet, folks. The ultra-liberal,
permissive, sex-liberated Dutch have decided to ban
the Muslim face veil in public. So in happy Holland,
practices like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex
unions are kosher, whilst a harmless sartorial style
isn't. Makes you think -- pause before you scream --
'damned Western Islamophobes.'

"In secularist-ruled Muslim Turkey, the situation is
far worse. Not only the female headscarf is illegal
for civil servants but even beard-sporting men working
in a state office can be carted off to jail. As to the
veil...forget it. And Turkey I supposed to have an
Islamist-friendly government.

"Evidently, the East can indulge in intolerant,
bigoted anti-religious paranoia, just as the West.
Maybe Pope Benedict in his controversial visit to
Constantinople could trump his Muslim critics by
speaking out for faith freedom in Turkey. It might win
him brownie points with Islamists there."

Father Frank's views warm the cockles of my heart. And
he issues an interesting challenge to Archbishop
Semantu "to demonstrate his good sentiments towards
our cousins in Abraham, not by searching Shariah, no
-- simply by affirming and proclaiming his own holy
book, the Bible.

"If he wants to uphold decency and fight immorality,
as any Christian should, he needs look no further than
his own cathedral. Any [Church of England] church
since the Reformation should have a Bible displayed
prominently on a lectern. To emphasise the centrality
of the Word of God in Anglican teaching -- something
I learnt as a green, young shaver of a Curate at
Chiswick Parish Church.

"And indeed the criterion of sound doctrine in
Anglicanism is whether it accords with, or 'is
repugnant to', Holy Scripture'. When Dr Sentamu
consults the Word of God, he will discover a rich
store of divine injunctions for virtue and against
vice and indecencies galore. For example, in St Paul's
Letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, verses 19-23.

"When he mounts the pulpit and preaches the apostle's
stern words in York Minster -- not just Christians,
but also many Muslim faithful will be delighted, I
assure him. Of course, the Archbishop may then have an
unpleasant surprise. The BBC, the TV channels, the
Guardian, Observer, independent newspapers and media
sundries whose pet he has hitherto been, won't be at
all pleased.

"'Wot! Is York suddenly going on about adultery,
fornication, uncleanness, drunkenness, idolatry,
revelries? Surely that strikes at the roots of our
merry, free-market, 'tolerant' way of life? Has he
gone soft in the head? He was doing so well...'

"The chattering classes will snigger and snide about
John Sentamu's African roots. Imply that he isn't
really a 21st century man, that he is 'too culturally
different', that 'he doesn't really belong', what an
embarrassment he is and so on. He'll get interviewed
less and less. Only occasionally wheeled out, like
some primitive bogey, to prove how backward,
'exclusive' and reactionary his beliefs are, to show
the dire dangers of fundamentalism, medievalism,
literalism and blah-blah-blah.

"Scary scenario for the archbishop, I am sure. Much
safer to tread easier, more popular paths, as he is
doing now. But I trust he remembers St Paul's cri de
coeur: 'Woe is me, if I do not preach the Gospel!' He
should live by that," Father Gelli writes.

Way to go, Lady Diana's favorite priest.