An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Friday, October 06, 2006

Enver Straw

I remember as if it were only last year calling round to my mother's house most every day on my way to work to check the post. It was the early seventies and I was waiting for a visa. In those days you needed a visa to go anywhere even vaguely interesting. And this was a seriously interesting place that I firmly believed was about to grant me a visa. It was a place that I had only ever read about. It was a place that no person I had ever met had been to - or even thought of going to. It was a place that, to be perfectly frank, nobody outside of my immediate circle would ever want to go to.

I had read of this place in the Soviet Weekly. I had seen the lists of endless political treatises churned out by their illustrious and stalinist leader Enver Hoxha. The place was Albania. The first and only officially atheist state in history. Cold war Albania: an independent and isolated state at the edge of Europe. Albania fascinated me. I wanted to see what life was like there. Enver and his buddies were not issuing many visas i those days but they were issuing some, and my political affiliations should put me in with a fair shout . And so I kept checking and continued waiting. Returned to my childhood home to check the post almost every day.

One day it turned up. In a thick brown envelope stamped all over with customs permits and bearing a coat of arms of some description of the Albanian state and postmarked Tirhana. Inside was a thick, folded sheaf of roneoed papers with that odd chemical smell so familiar from schooldays and that strangely purple text on shiny paper. The bulk of the papers were either about the latest 5 year plan and how the workers were ahead of target already or alternatively about what you could not bring into the country. I searched in vain through this litter for my visa. There was no sign of it but I did finally turn up a hand written letter addressed to me personally and signed by an under-secretary or vice-consul or some other embassy luminary.

This personal letter informed me that the visa I had requested was issued but was being held for me at my local Albanian Embassy awaiting authorisation. My heart rose. And then sank as I read the final paragraph. The authorisation of my visa depended on me turning up at the embassy, in person. And why? I had, at the time I applied for the visa, they informed me, had a beard. I would be aware, this functionary opined, that beards were forbidden in Albania and rather than have to shave me when I arrived in Albania it would be less problematic for all concerned if I were to present myself to the embassy "sans barbe" as it were.

I didn't go to the embassy and I didn't go to Albania. I symbolically spat in the eye of Enver Hoxha and his state and if Jack Straw asked me to remove my beard, for example, before he was happy to carry out the job that I pay him to do I would spit in his eye - for real.

1 comment:

  1. Amusing tale, but the connection between the two issues you refer to is superficial in the extreme, as well you know, and does not usefully add to the debate.

    The fact of the matter is that there is no exhortation or demand in the Qur'an that women wear the naqib or burka. The wearing of these garments was originally imposed on women by men as a means of control and subjugation. It is a cultural issue, not a religious one. In addition, my experience of Muslim women in Blackburn and Preston confirms what Jack Straw says - the wearing of the naqib is a very recent event which, even 10 years ago, was literally unseen there. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that the wearing of this garment coincides with the spread of Muslim fundamentalism in this country and the increasing segregation that many Muslims wish for.

    Further, it is also a fact that in Western culture, and in ours in particular, people cover their faces either for disguise, subterfuge, or for nefarious purposes. In short, a mask is a de facto badge that someone is different and that they wish to be seen as such, so Straw is correct when he says that the naqib is "a visible statement of separation and of difference".

    I should perhaps also mention that for various other purposes Muslim women who wear the naqib are obliged to remove it - note the use of the word 'obliged': Straw only requests them to do so - such as sitting a driving test, for immigration purposes, in Courts, proving ID to sit University exams etc.

    Regarding the issue of a beard, whilst you were free to decide that to retain yours was more important to you than your desire to visit Albania, the fact that you chose to do so indicates that you recognised that your own personal wishes were more important to you than the wishes of the Albanian authorities. Fair enough, but in that recognition is the tacit admission that the Albanians had the right to insist that their customs were adhered to for residents and visitors to their country.

    Furthermore, many Muslim countries do not allow non-Muslim religious groups to exhibit any sign of their own religious beliefs, such as the wearing of crucifixes etc, and none of the Muslims in the UK who are criticising Jack Straw condemn that

    The sad fact of the matter is that there appears to be a substantial and growing number of Muslims who do not want to integrate with their host society, and who are using the spurious excuse of their medieval religion to do so.