Friday, July 30, 2004

Dance of the Two Veils

Something strange is afoot. Leighton Smith and lawyers are in agreement.

We are talking here about the fuss over the burka-ed Muslim women declining to unveil to give evidence in a Court case. This is a good one for talkback land. ‘Either play by our rules or go home’ is pretty much the cry that has been going up from all of our long-time listening, first time calling friends.

The part where it gets odd though is when the bulk of the legal profession find themselves in agreement with the gist of this argument. Strange times indeed when the ultra-careful lawyer types and the exuberantly offensive talk backers see eye-to-eye.

What’s the problem? Don’t we live in a tolerant society were people are free to do what they want, even if what they want to do is be hidden head-to-toe bar a gap for the eyes? Shouldn’t these people, whose right to religious expression New Zealand protects, be allowed to go to Court without stepping out of their customary garb?

Well yes and no. The consensus call seems to be that you can do this anywhere and anytime you want except if you are giving evidence in a trial.
The ability for a Judge and Jury to assess the reliability of a witnesses’ testimony from their delivery - especially how they look how they present it - is an established and vital tenet of our Justice system. And in a country run like ours where an independent Justice system is part of the state apparatus then if you are in this country you have to play by its rules. No choice about it. No person can avoid doing so. It isn’t like choosing between swearing on a bible or taking a non-religious oath, it is an integral part of ascertaining the truth in a case. Part of keeping the just in the Justice System if you will.

A possible parallel, one which follows talkback language, would be a woman from New Zealand heading into a Shar’ia law court in a halter-neck top and mini-skirt - it just simply could not be done. The difference here is we agonise over whether to compel these two women to unveil while there our western dressed woman wouldn’t make it into the room.

So even if it offends inclusive sensibilities it is best not to make the established Justice system bend to accommodate a small group of new citizens. It would be churlish to expect countries you visited to alter to fit your mores, rather than the other way round. But try finding a Judge here with the bravery to say this. According to Defence Lawyer Colin Amery he has been through three Courts looking for a Judge with the mettle to rule either way on whether the veils have to go. Tricky political situation apparently. I hope it isn’t political correctness in play, mainly as it has actually become physically painful to hear the knee-jerk dismissals of such behaviour. I’m actually developing a pre-emptive flinch in response to the torrents I know will follow from an inanely wet action. In fact the usage of ‘politically incorrect’ has become so cartoon-ish that the term itself is in danger of being stripped of what little meaning it had in the first place and becoming an oxy-moron.

Best to remember then that no one is being nasty, no one’s being insensitive, they are just applying the set of rules that run the country to everyone in it. Actually I’d better stop now. This is starting to sound like a one law for all argument. Although you’d hope that this would be the case, ugly politicians have, as with political correctness, made one law for all into an ugly sounding idea.


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