The top-to-toe burka, with its sinister, airless little grille, is more than an instrument of persecution, it is a public tarring and feathering of female sexuality. It transforms any woman into an object of defilement too untouchably disgusting to be seen. It is a garment of lurid sexual suggestiveness: what rampant desire and desirability lurks and leers beneath its dark mysteries? In its objectifying of women, it turns them into cowering creatures demanding and expecting violence and victimisation. Forget cultural sensibilities.

More moderate versions of the garb – the dull, uniform coat to the ground and the plain headscarf – have much the same effect, inspiring the lascivious thoughts they are designed to stifle. What is it about a woman that is so repellently sexual that she must diminish herself into drab uniformity while strolling down Oxford Street one step behind a husband who is kitted out in razor-sharp Armani and gold, pomaded hair and tight bum exposed to lustful eyes? (No letters please from British women who have taken the veil and claim it’s liberating. It is their right in a tolerant society to wear anything including rubber fetishes – but that has nothing to do with the systematic cultural oppression of women with no choice.)

The reference to rubber fetishes in connnection with the burqa is interesting. UD will admit to wondering about the darker jouissance (presumably having to do, as rubber fetishes do, with full-body constraints) possibly in play for some burqa wearers…. As in that “demanding and expecting violence” thing Toynbee touches on…

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